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 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.

Chapter Fifty Nine: How Bands Fall Apart (in Manchester)

We’ve put off confronting Katy a number of times now; twice because she stalled us with promises to meet up, only to fail to show at the pre-arranged meeting point, and three times because neither Flora nor Katy turned up.  Fliss still refuses to have anything to do with it and, all things considered, we aren’t expecting her to change her mind anytime soon.  “I’m not taking any chances this time,” announced Jenny as we walked along Oxford Road in the late morning sunshine, “If Flora thinks she can get out of it by staying at home, she’s another thing coming.”  The heat was rising as we walked, making the air warm and slightly humid despite the glaring whiteness of the sky.

  Flora and Debbie’s flat was stark and shabby, with an early seventies nostalgic feel, which I can only presume was accidental.  Debbie steered us across the orangey brown carpet to the worn lino of the kitchen, where she made us drinks, and we talked as we waited for Sleeping Beauty to emerge.  “I don’t want to be rude,” began Debbie, hesitantly, after we had been exchanging small talk for over an hour, “But Flora got drunk again last night, and I’ve noticed she only does that when she’s under pressure about the band.”

  “She’s been drunk other times too,” said Jenny, “she got drunk when we last went out, and that was purely social.”

  Debbie shuffled uncomfortably, I could tell that she wanted to disagree, but that she thought it was best not to for the moment.  “I’m only mentioning it because her hangovers cut into work time, and we’ve had a lot of commissions and deadlines lately.  I can deal with the shop side, and the business side of things, but I’m not as good as she is at the creative side of things, so I can’t take much of it off her hands.”  Jenny began to drum her fingers, impatiently, on the top of the table; I could tell that she wanted to get Flora, and get going, before Katy did a flit.  “Jenny,” said Debbie imploringly, “Listen to me… You could get another bassist, I’m sure you could, I don’t want you to sack her, but…”

  She trailed off as Jenny got to her feet, flicking her bright hair out of her eyes as she said, “I can’t wait any longer; I’m going to get her.”

  As we walked up the grimy brown and orange stair carpet, I heard Debbie’s footsteps behind me.

  In Flora’s bedroom, the paint on the walls was peeling, and boxes surrounded the bed.  Knickers and bras had been left all over the floor, and there were empty bottles teetering on the boxes.  A hi-fi, somewhere, was blaring out Marianne Faithful’s ‘The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’ as Flora lay, spread-eagled, across the unmade bed, her hair unwashed and un-brushed, still wearing her clothes, and groaning loudly as Jenny shook her.  It was strangely reminiscent of Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’.  Debbie slipped past me as I stood gawping, and between the two of them, they managed to drag her into an upright position, although her eyes were screwed tight shut against the glare of the daylight.  “Why have you done this?” snapped Jenny, shaking her for emphasis.

  Flora winced as she moaned, “I thought you might leave me alone and not make me go!” the last word emerged as a disgruntled whine.  Her face was distinctly greenish, and her eyes, when she eventually opened them, were bloodshot and slightly unfocused.  “Where are my sunglasses?” she whimpered as she closed her eyes once more.  She would no doubt have flopped back down onto the bed, and gone back to sleep, but Debbie and Jenny held her fast.  Debbie found the sunglasses and propped them up against Flora’s pale, sensitive nose, then she and Jenny hauled her to my feet and dragged her over to a chair.

  “Leave me alone with her for a few minutes,” said Debbie quietly, and we did.

  Outside the bedroom door, Jenny lit a cigarette and inhaled gratefully, “I’ll be glad when this is over,” she muttered.

  The humidity had increased whilst we were inside, and the white sky was glaringly bright as we walked through Hulme, then back down Oxford Road.  Despite the humidity, Flora was shivering.  She made a strange picture in her coat and sunglasses, and her face was a terrible colour. “Fliss thinks we should give Katy the elbow,” I told them both as we walked.

  “I’m all for it,” muttered Flora.

  But Jenny shook her head, “It would mean a long court case over who gets to use the name if you do, and I can’t see Katy giving up without a fight.”

  The Northern Quarter always looks best in summer, the sun makes the streets seem less grey, and the colours seem brighter, the shops fresher, shoppers more cheerful.  The recently built glass and steel apartment block became more and more imposing as we drew nearer, and Flora shivered.

  “I told you I don’t want to talk,” snapped Katy when she, at last, opened the door to us.

  “I know,” said Jenny as she shoved past her and into the flat.

  I found myself comparing the open plan glass and steel of Katy’s apartment to the shabbily carpeted, peeling paint and cramped rooms of Flora’s flat.  Like Flora, Katy shares her flat, but it was easy to see that Katy had a palace, Flora a hovel.

  We didn’t see much of the palace, however, for Katy blocked our path once more.  She stood directly in front of us with her arms folded, defensively, across her chest as she scowled.  Jenny was wavering, I could tell, “All we want to do is talk about the band,” she insisted.

  “You’ve no jurisdiction over me anymore, Jenny,” growled Katy, handing her a letter.  “You’re not my manager anymore.”

  I watched as Jenny read the letter, and I saw her turn pale with rage.  There was a long, long, silence before she said, in tones of purest ice, “I still represent the interests of Maggie, Flora, and Fliss.”

  “I won’t discuss anything without my manager being present,” maintained Katy in that same icy voice.

  “Fine,” said Jenny, “let’s arrange a date.”

  Katy started to close the door on us, “I’ll get my manager to phone the label and arrange a meeting at the London offices.”  The London offices meant RCM International.

  “Fine,” snapped Jenny, her foot in the door, “if I haven’t heard anything by the end of the week, I’ll be talking to your manager to find out why.”

  “Fine,” Katy slammed the door, and Jenny removed her foot just in time.

  We put Flora in a taxi at Piccadilly, and it was as we watched the car disappear along the road that Jenny asked, dryly, “Would it hurt you a lot if Titanium Rose split up?” 

  I shook my head, “No.”

  She shook her head in seeming sadness, “I was afraid you’d say that.”  She turned to face me, and took me by the arm, “Come with me, please,” we walked back towards Oldham Street.

  The Twilight seemed tired in the glare of the afternoon sun.  At night, the dust and grime, the darkness and red velour can be charming, but in daylight it just seems old, and tired, and sad.  The young gothic barmaid served us with a histrionic sigh, and rolled her eyes in boredom as she got our drinks, all the while slouching across the floor, her black lacquered nails raking her red, teased hair as though she’d rather be somewhere else.

  Once we were ensconced at one of the dark wooden tables, sticky with years of spilt beer, Jenny produced a magazine from her bag.  It was bright, thick and glossy, and it looked very new, very different to the usual rock mag fare.  There was a picture of The Girls From Mars on the cover.  Jenny flicked through the pages until she was near the centre before passing the magazine across to me.  There was a feature on new, up and coming, girl bands, including Lolita Complex, Clinch, The Flirts, Rachel Halo And The Princesses, and three bands I hadn’t heard of: The Heimlich Manoeuvre, Kitsune, and the wonderfully named Mad Girls In The Attic.  Lolita Complex are from Chorlton, and are friends of Yan from the Razorblades, Clinch are from Bolton, and Meelan is a friend, The Flirts are based in London, though are from Bolton originally, Rachel Halo And The Princesses are from Leicester, The Heimlich Manoeuvre are from Glasgow, Kitsune are a London band, and Mad Girls In The Attic are from Leeds.

  “Should be Howarth really,” said Jenny, as she read over my shoulder, “and they should wear petticoats on stage…”

  “They sound great,” I grinned.

  Jenny pointed to each band in turn, “Have you noticed the common theme yet?”

  “Um, they’re all girls?” I ventured.

  “They all list Titanium Rose as one of their influences, Mad Girls In The Attic and Rachel Halo And The Princesses especially, and look, Meelan mentions you specifically in the piece on Clinch.”

  “That’s because we’re friends,” I said dismissively.

  “Two of them, the two I’ve already mentioned, cite you as the reason they got together,” Downstairs, we could hear the distant sounds of a band rehearsing, I recognised some of the songs, and realised that it was Angel and the Razorblades practising.  “Another band that owe a lot to Titanium Rose,” said Jenny when I pointed it out.  “What does all of this tell you?” she gazed at me meaningfully.

  I shrugged carelessly, “That the future’s in good hands,” I replied, flippantly.

  It was only as I returned home, and I heard Fliss playing her guitar, and singing her new songs, that I began to really think about what she had been saying, and I began to ask myself, would I miss Titanium Rose if we split up? Then, I thought about the other question she’d raised, I had told her that I believed the future to be in good hands, but I find myself wondering now if Fliss and I are a part of that future or not.

Chapter Fifty Seven: Cherchez La Femme

It’s been over a month now since Adrienne met with Fliss.  The Library Theatre’s run of ‘The Seagull’ finished a fortnight ago, taking with it any chance of Fliss seeing Adrienne again.  I wish that I could say that I’d done the right thing, but… I’m still not sure.  The day Adrienne left her for the last time, Fliss cried most of the day, and I listened to her sobs as one serves penance as I performed odd jobs around the flat.  She cried like a child who had been abandoned, I heard it in her voice, in the thin wails and hiccupping sobs, but I knew because of her face.  When she finally left her room around seven p.m, she looked so lost that I hurt on her behalf, and when I, stupidly, asked if she was alright, she stared through me with puffy, swollen eyes that seemed to see nothing as she said, dully, “No, not really… I don’t think I can ever be alright again.”  Then she traipsed back to her room, still in her nightshirt and slippers.  I had expected her to scream at me, but this, if anything, was worse.  I had committed an unthinkable, unforgivable act: I had kicked Bambi.

  Things were no better yesterday at band practice, for, although the tears have stopped, Fliss was still very subdued when we arrived at Twilight.  We practice very early these days, before work, and before Flora has to open up at Afflecks.  Fliss and I always arrive first, carefully lugging the drums across the carpark from Fergus’ car, and then into the lift and upstairs to the fifth floor where our practice room is.  He goes and gets his breakfast at the café down the road, and I meet him there for coffee after we’ve finished, then I help him load the drums into the car again before shooting off to work.  It’s a ritual I’m getting to love.

  It was just getting light as we climbed out of the car at six a.m and, in the dim light of the new day, Fliss stood on the damp tarmac, her grubby jeans ragged and wet at the cuffs, her arms folded across her pale blue shapeless t-shirt.  Her hair was hanging loose, tangled, and unwashed, but she didn’t seem to care.

  We practiced some new songs yesterday, nearly all ones that Katy has written because, lately, Flora hasn’t the time and Fliss doesn’t seem to have the inclination to write.  They’re O.K songs, I suppose, but I have mixed feelings about them; they seem to lack the anger and spikiness of her usual stuff, still, it was inevitable I suppose.  We rattled through band practice quite quickly, with little discussion between songs, each of us preoccupied by different things. I kept an eye on Fliss as we worked, but there was little evidence that her heart was broken, not unless you knew.

  As we packed up, talk turned to our gig that night and Katy, who had been eyeing Fliss with thinly veiled contempt, said with a curl of her lip, “I hope you’re not wearing that tonight.”

  “Why not?” asked Fliss, in seemingly genuine puzzlement.

  “Because Jenny and Angel Smith will be there,” said Katy, far more gently than if she had been speaking to Flora or me.

  “Jenny doesn’t care what I wear.”

  “Angel will,” Angel is our new A&R, replacing Alan Mitchelman now that RMC International has bought out Sandra Dee.  “Wear a mini dress, or a mini skirt.”

  “No!” shouted Fliss.

  We all froze.  Fliss never lost her temper.

  Katy said nothing at first; she just stood there in the stark practice room amidst the leads and guitars, her eyebrows raised in surprise.  “Please Fliss,” she reasoned, “it’ll look better, for all of us…”

  “Let her wear what she wants, Katy,” I murmured, “If they want to drop us, they will.”

  Katy didn’t deign to answer me, so I joined Flora in the doorway, and we waited.  Waited and watched.

  “I won’t wear a dress!” snapped Fliss, “Or a skirt! Not now I know how many boys have been looking up my skirt for the past three years!” her eyes flashed with defiance, and I could tell that she meant it.  It was Liberty who had told her about boys looking up her skirt, and Fliss had listened with a faintly outraged expression on her face.  She’d since told Angel and the Razorblades, but it hadn’t stopped Kit or Kylie from wearing mini dresses or skirts on stage, they’d just taken to wearing jeans underneath.

  In the café later, after Fliss had stormed off to work and Katy had stormed off to the studio, Flora had let Fergus and me in on a bit of gossip, which explained Katy’s obsession with clothes a little bit.  “It was something Jenny said to us at the Christmas party,” she said as she stirred her milkshake, thoughtfully, with her straw, “Just after Sandra Dee got bought out, Jenny heard something Angel Smith allegedly said about us, something about dykes and anorexics who cut themselves.”  I felt myself stiffen in anger, Fergus placed his hand over mine, “Sorry, Maggie,” she said, apologetically, “but that’s what Jenny heard, she thinks we’re loose canons, she thinks we’re unsellable, unrelateable.”

  “I don’t see how Fliss wearing a dress is going to make any difference,” I said, sceptically.

  Flora sighed, her eyes were weary as she said, “She thinks that if Fliss dresses up, and does her hair, and makes herself up, that she’ll look so pretty that Angel will take one look at her and forget she’s a lesbian.”  Flora scowled, “I often think that Katy would like to forget she is too, I know she hates Adrienne, she thinks she ruined her.”

  I didn’t see Fliss until our soundcheck, and when she arrived, she was wearing a blue and white knee length checked dress with a button down front and short sleeves.  Plain though the dress was, it emphasised her eyes beautifully, as well as matching the clean pair of jeans that she had, defiantly, worn underneath.  She had on a little make-up, a little lip-gloss and eyeliner, and looked crisp and fresh faced as she took to the stage.  Emily was doing the sound last night, and I saw Fliss gaze questioningly at her a couple of times as I walked over to the stage.  We often experiment with cover versions at rehearsal and soundcheck, and recently we’ve been experimenting with a number of songs, including Kenickie’s ‘Girls Best Friend,’ which is one of Flora’s favourites.  Fliss’ voice is higher than Marie Du Santiago’s, but I noticed Emily look up from the sound desk with a faintly startled expression on her face all the same.  Two lines into the second verse, her voice seemed to falter, and she broke off.  She stood there for a few moments, stock still in front of the microphone, then, I saw her carefully lift off her guitar, and lay it down on the stage. There was a slight tremor in her voice as she whispered, “I’m sorry,” then, stumbling a little, she jumped down from the stage, and ran.

  From my drums, I saw Emily stand up from behind the sound desk and run, swiftly, and practically unobserved, after Fliss.  Flora and Katy were exchanging puzzled expressions and shrugs as I followed Emily’s lead.  The trail led us down the sticky wooden stairs at Juvenile Hell, and into the flaking plaster and stone bowels of the building.  I kept my distance, for I was wary of Fliss just then, wary, and curious as to what Emily was doing.

  Sobbing could be heard from one of the offices, and I watched as Emily stealthily crept in after Fliss, closing the door behind her.  Outside, I put my ear to the flaking paintwork, and listened.  I heard Emily ask her what was wrong, and upon receiving no reply, heard her follow up question “Is it to do with Adrienne?”

  Gradually, the sobbing seemed to slow and peter out, and I heard Fliss’ voice at last, shaking as she said, “Did Maggie tell you?”

  “No,” Emily’s voice sounded further away now, and I guessed that she had moved closer to Fliss, “But I knew she was in the area, I guessed the rest.”

  The emotion poured out of her like a river, as she tearfully replied, “She said she was setting me free… I think she knew, think she knew, that, Maggie told her I’m in love with…” she broke off, and added in slow, deliberate tones, “Someone else.”

  “Who?” Emily’s voice was almost a whisper.

  “You”

  There was a long, long silence, during which I pressed myself even closer to the door.  At last, I heard Fliss again; her voice was quieter now, and calmer as she pleaded, “Please say something.”

  I could sense the shock in Emily’s voice as she stuttered her response, “I… I mean, I never thought… that, I mean, I can’t, couldn’t…Oh, God…”

  I heard sobbing.  I guessed that it was Fliss who was crying, and my guess was confirmed as Emily began to speak once more.  “Please don’t cry, please Fliss, I only meant…”

  “Are you straight?” blurted Fliss tearfully.

  “What?” she seemed genuinely surprised by the question.

  “Are you straight?” persisted Fliss, almost hysterically, “Are you heterosexual, do you have a boyfriend?”

  There was a long silence.  I guessed that Emily must have shaken her head, for it was Fliss who spoke next, and she said, rather bleakly, “Well, that’s something I suppose.”

  The door started to open, and I darted around the corner and pressed myself up against the wall.  Nat, who happened to be passing on her way to or from her own office, shot me a speculative look, and I pressed my finger to my lips.  She passed me.  In the doorway, Emily was standing with her back to Fliss, looking straight ahead, with a dazed, slightly grim expression on her face.  “I love you, Fliss,” I heard her say, so quietly that it was almost a whisper, “but I’m not good enough for you.”  And she walked away, slowly and steadily, up the stairs, back to the sound desk.

  The meeting with Angel Smith was uncomfortable yet mercilessly brief.  Jenny brought her down to our dressing room before the show started, and she talked mostly to Jenny and Katy.  I caught her staring at me a few times, but it was the bad kind of staring, as though I was something fascinatingly awful in the zoo, and her gaze had a tendency to drift towards my arms, despite the fact that I had worn long sleeves especially; you can’t win.  Fliss did her best coy little girl act, I suspect, to get Katy off her back, but whilst Angel seemed to be entranced by her, I could tell that Jenny wasn’t fooled.  I, for one, was missing Alan already. 

  Once Angel had left, it was time for the press.  I got up to leave, but Jenny laid a hand on my shoulder, “a quick word,” she murmured, “outside,” and as the press corps trooped inside, we slipped out.  “Two seconds,” called Jenny over her shoulder to them.

  “What is it?” I whispered as we loitered by the stairs.

  Jenny looked up at me apologetically, “I’m going to have to ask you to do something that you aren’t going to like.”

  “What?” I asked apprehensively.

  “I need you to be interviewed tonight; I need you to balance out Katy.”

  “But Jenny,” I protested, “you know…”

  “Yes,” she interrupted me, “Of course I know, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”

  My eyes narrowed, “Did Angel Smith put you up to this?”

  Jenny winced; I had scored a direct hit, “Yes, she did.”  Her voice took on a pleading tone as she said, “She wants a show of unity, and we do need to impress her, if only to get her off our backs.  Besides,” she grimaced, “from a personal point of view, I’d like to try and balance out Katy’s natural bombastic chatter with your more amiable reticence.”

  With extreme reluctance, I gave in.

  I emerged from the dressing room an hour or so later, relatively unscathed, and found my way back up to Juvenile Hell.  It was starting to get busy, and the crowd were in good spirits.  Before too long, Fergus joined me, and he was a much welcome presence who I was determined to cling to all night.  I’m not normally that possessive, but the day had been horrible thus far, and if anyone could get me through the night ahead, it would be him.  From our table, I observed Fliss mournfully drinking at the bar.  The fairy lights shone on her face as she watched Emily with hurt, longing eyes.  Next to her, Sabine and Amber were indulging in some heavy duty flirting.  Nat was right: Valentines Day really is a couple’s thing.  I could sense the sexual tension in the air, just as clearly as I could smell the fag smoke, perfume and sweat of the various glamorous couples present.  Dew were there, and Aiden and Sophie joined us for a drink before departing to set up shop with the newly pressed Angel and the Razorblades single at the table nearest the stage.

  As the Razorblades took to the stage, Fergus and I made our way through the modest crowd to the moshpit.  Kylie was on fine form tonight, all sparkle and wit and energy, and her voice has never sounded so good.  They have some new songs, which are tight and show how far they’ve come over the past year, one of them is called ‘Beijing Doll,’ after some Chinese punk girls memoir, and another is about the under eighteens anti-war protest in Manchester two years ago.  Rosa and Kit channelled their energy into their playing, making for a great set, even when Yan broke a string and had to borrow Fliss’ guitar for the rest of the set.

  As the Razorblades played, I became aware of Nat, who was watching the band from the end of the bar.  She was dressed up to the nines in a particularly devastating black velour dress, but she seemed distracted.  Soon, she had vanished once more and I was able only to catch the odd glimpse of her between songs as she ran from pillar to post arranging things, a fierce scowl on her face.  I sensed her impatience, as well as her mild frustration.

  After the Razorblades set, it was time for Fliss to make her way through the heart shaped balloons and sprays of glitter to the decks by the sound desk to start her DJ set, and the crowd dispersed to the dancefloor, bar, and tables.  Things were definitely livening up, and it looked as though it was going to be a great night.  Then…

  A tall, curvy, dark haired woman could be seen at the far end of the room, handing over her ticket as Fliss began to play Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out.’  I nudged Fergus, and we watched as this most glamorous of creatures cut her way through the crowd like a knife through butter.  “It’s Violet!” I exclaimed as she drew closer.

  “And she’s wearing that dress,” added Flora, in significant tones.

  That dress was scarlet in colour, and was made from a luxuriously silky fabric.  It was low necked and slashed to the waist, and shoelace thin black lacings criss-crossed up Violet’s torso, revealing pale flesh and the outline of her breasts.  The dress had long, loose, flowing sleeves and, whilst the dress itself wasn’t tight, it was clearly tailored to be a close fit, the hem fell to just below her knees, and was slit up the back, rather less drastically than at the front.  Black nylons and black kitten heels complimented the dress, along with a slash of scarlet lipstick, and black, impenetrable sunglasses.  Her long black hair hung in loose waves down her back, and was fixed in place by a red flower grip on the right side.  She looked like a goddess, like a twenty first century, darker, Veronica Lake.

  Nat slipped through the gaping crowd to her, and they embraced theatrically.  Nat’s black finger nailed hand took hold of Violet’s scarlet one, and lead her away into the crowd.

  Fergus swallowed nervously, “I thought the Girls From Mars were in London this week, re-negotiating their contract.”

  Flora, who had been knocking back the drinks at a worryingly prodigious rate, leant over and said, knowingly, “Violet made sure that they finalised it yesterday.”

  A few minutes later, Fliss began to play Garbage’s ‘#1 Crush’, and I saw Nat and Violet take to the dancefloor together, to considerable roared approval from the crowd.  The intense sexuality of the song perfectly suited their closeness on the dancefloor, and as Nat frenched her, and Violet pulled Nat closer still, I heard Flora mutter in horror, “She’s ruining her make-up, and it must have taken ages to put on.”

  Nat’s hands were everywhere now, and as they half danced, half groped, less attentive couples looked on, open-mouthed.  I could see Amber watching, despite herself, as Sabine tried to distract her.  I had talked to Moyra briefly in the toilets earlier, and she had told me that Violet was “just doing a friend a favour” by coming tonight.  I relayed this to Fergus as we watched the barely disguised foreplay unfolding before us.  His eyes were full of stunned admiration as he said, “Must be one hell of a favour then.”

  The arrival of the rest of The Girls From Mars defused some of the electricity in the air.  They joined Fergus, Flora and I at our table and began to chat happily about London, and some of the bands they had seen whilst down there, “on business.”  Moyra, their usually cool, ice blonde singer was enthusing wildly about a Japanese punk band called Klack, whilst Jane talked of Unskinny Bop and American bands passing through the capital at a rate of one a night.  I found myself next to Andrea, who had been quiet so far, and I realised that I had never really had the opportunity to thank her for stepping into my shoes last year.  “That’s alright,” she said when I brought the matter up, “I quite enjoyed it, it was an interesting challenge for me, because we play in such different styles.”  Over drinks, we discussed different styles, and then got onto kits, and finally, onto drummers we admire, it was nice, I found, to talk to her, and I quite regretted having to break off our conversation in order to get up onstage for our set.

  Afterwards, Fergus and I were joined by a rapidly drowning Flora, and a thoroughly drowned Liberty, both of whom were accompanied by a sober and sombre Jenny.  “I feel that I ought to maintain an element of control,” said Jenny as she glared, pointedly, at Flora, “when I’m working, things being the way they are.”  Liberty plonked herself down with The Girls From Mars at the next table and, sensing an indefinable tension between Flora and Jenny, I made my excuses and lead Fergus away.

  “What was all that about?” he asked as we walked back towards the stage, and then through the door that led to the stairs.

  “I’ll explain later,” I promised as we headed backstage; but backstage proved to be an unreliable sanctity as well.  When we arrived, it was to find Fliss and Emily seated at opposite ends of the battered old sofa, talking intensely in low, emotionally taut voices.  They didn’t notice us enter the room, and I’m equally sure that they didn’t see us leave either, just thirty or so seconds later.

Chapter Fifty Five: Pas de deux

 

The invitations for the Christmas Party have arrived.  Which party? The one Fergus and I were meant to be organising together, the one we planned and speculated about together, the one thing, in fact, that we agreed on all last year that we would do.

  Fliss picked up the mail from the doormat last week, as she does every morning, and I heard her feet on the stairs, light and fast, as though she was excited about something.  “It’s from Fergus,” she announced as she dumped a pile of bills, and a letter, in front of me.  She plonked herself down opposite me at the table, and began to tear open her own letter.  I gingerly opened the envelope, I had forgotten all about the party, then…

  Fliss was reading her invitation aloud, “Miss Felicity Jayne Keale, plus guest, is cordially invited…” she broke off, “What does cordially mean?”

  “Warmly,” my mind was on my own letter, underneath the invitation, he had written something extra, a personal message to me.

“I did it for you,” it read, “I wish you could have been here to help, that’s my fault as well as yours.  I hope you’ll be at the party, it wouldn’t’ be the same without you.  I still love you, I was an idiot to ever think otherwise.”

  I laid the invitation down on the table.  My heart was beating too fast, and I could feel my face growing warm.  Fortunately, Fliss was oblivious.

  “Look!” she cried, “It’s a film theme, who are we going to go as? We could do ‘I Capture The Castle’, and I could go as Cassandra and you could go as Rose, we could get Flora to make us matching white suits…” she trailed off as her eyes lit up with a spark of remembrance, “Or…” she began.

  I shook my head irritably, “No, Fliss…” my mind was still dwelling, very much, on other things, “I don’t know if I want to go or not.”  I confessed.

  “Oh, but you must!” she exclaimed, jumping up from the table and spilling her tea all over her toast in the process, “It was your thing, you and Fergus, you can’t let him down, you have to go!”

  I have brooded for a week now, but today I made my decision: I am going to the party.  I have less than a week in which to sort my costume out, for the party is on Friday, and today is Monday, but I will go.

  (Later)

Went into Manchester in-between shifts yesterday and hared off to Afflecks Palace in pursuit of Flora.  As I climbed the brightly coloured stairs up to the second floor, I heard the distant notes of a strangled guitar. It grew louder as I climbed, but was drowned out in turn by hip hop, sixties pop, and, finally, Radio 2 as I made my way through the vividly coloured, multi varied, always fascinating shops and corridors of the second floor.  At last, I reached Flora’s domain.

  Over the past year and a half, Flora’s shop has come into its own.  When she first installed herself at Afflecks, she had only the stark partitions and a bit of battered carpet to provide an ambience for the racks of clothes, now, the walls are flocked with wallpaper and the floor properly carpeted, and there are clothes and accessories wherever you turn.  “I was going for a thirties drawing room comedy kind of feel,” she told ‘City Life’ a few weeks ago.

  I think a lot of people must be going to Flora for their party costumes, as she was spread-eagled on the floor amidst some heavily sequinned fabric, with pins in her mouth, when I arrived, and Debbie, Flora’s star shop assistant, was perched at the till, looking wearily on.  Somewhere in the background, Ella Fitzgerald was insisting that she was ‘Always True To You Darling In My Fashion.’  It was about half nine, so there weren’t any customers yet.

  “I can’t make a Givenchy knock off for Friday,” she stated firmly as we tucked into coffee and cakes in the café upstairs, “I’ll be pushed to get all my other commissions done, what with all the party outfits I’m doing…”

  I nodded gloomily as I surveyed the décor, there is a kind of bright, sparkling, fresh ambience to that café, it seems to be part nineteen fifties tea room, part college canteen, and it has an atmosphere that so many eateries lack, “Isn’t this like you imagine The Primula or one of those espresso bars in ‘Here Be Dragons’?” I wondered aloud. Flora had been the one to introduce me to that book, so she would know what I meant.

  Flora looked up from her coffee with bleary eyes, “Hey, if you want to give up working at The Platinum Hotel and come to work here for the atmosphere, that’s fine with me.  Talking of fifties,” she frowned, “if you go to Top Shop, they’ve got an Audrey Hepburn dress in the sale there, just like the one she wore in ‘Roman Holiday’.” 

  “No,” I shook my head adamantly, “it has to be ‘Breakfast At Tiffanys.’”

  Flora shrugged, “Sorry.”

  I was starting to feel desperate.  If Flora couldn’t provide me with what I needed, then there was very little chance of getting it via other means and, if I couldn’t get that outfit, then I wouldn’t be able to go.  “All I need is a black dress!” I protested urgently, “a long, black, sleeveless dress.”

  Flora sighed wearily, “Come back tomorrow then, after work.  I won’t have time to make you anything, but I’ll ask around today and, if I get the chance, I could maybe adapt something similar.”

  I exhaled, “Thanks.”

  “Just don’t get your hopes up, that’s all.”

  But she had come up with the goods when I stopped by this evening, “It’s not identical!” she yelled over the sea of heads, “But it’ll do! You need to get a pearl choker though! Or make one! Four rows, try upstairs, by the café!”

  Yelling my thanks, I made for the stairs once more.  The girls at the bead shop were just packing up when I arrived, and they didn’t sell pearl chokers.  Still, the younger of the two, who I knew through Fliss, gave me some wire, a fastener, and some plastic pearls.  I handed over my cash, and with the prettily patterned paper bag in my hand, ran back down the two flights of stairs to the second floor, and to Flora’s increasingly frantic thirties drawing room.

  She threw me over the dress, and I took a good look at it as she packed up.  It was strappy rather than sleeveless, and the thin spaghetti straps crossed over at the back.  It would reveal far more skin than I had originally planned, but it would have to do.

  “Do you need gloves?” enquired Flora after I’d paid her. 

  I shook my head.

  “Cigarette holder?”

  “No, I’m doing without… I have the sunglasses though, and my hair’s long enough to pin up, even if it is the wrong colour.”

  “You could always dye it,” suggested Debbie.

  I shook my head.

  “But he wouldn’t recognise her then!” said Flora, scandalised.  I could feel myself blushing as they exchanged a knowing look.

  Flora’s joie de vivre seemed to evaporate as we carried boxes of stock down to her car.  The vegetable market by the corner of Church Street and Oldham Street were packing up too, and I scrounged some supplies for Fliss and I as Flora talked, “I’m relieved to be so busy here, to tell the truth” she confessed, “it keeps me out of Katy’s way, keeps me occupied, stops me thinking about things.”

  “Is she as unbearable at home as she is at gigs and practices?” I asked incredulously as I packed my supplies away into my bag.

  We walked back to where she had left her car, and she said, “I’m thinking of moving out, to tell the truth, I’ve been looking into places in Hulme or Whalley Range… Hulme would be good; I’d be nearer to work then.”

  Now that her stock was safely packed away, we said our goodbyes.  “See you Friday!” she called after me as I made my way around a dim corner and back onto the Santa illuminated bustle of Oldham Street.

  “See you Friday!” I called back.  But still, I wonder, can I go through with it?

  (Later)

Is it only five days since I wrote those words? It feels like a lifetime.  It is Sunday now, the Sunday after the party, and there is so much to write… I must go slowly though.  Slow and detailed, because I don’t want to miss out a single bit, not one…

  Even on Friday evening, I was reluctant to go to the party.  Despite the touring I’ve done with Titanium Rose these last three or four months, I’m still wary of crowds.  I can sense people staring at me, hear them saying things, laughing… and it makes me nervous, and I have to leave, I can’t stay.

  I tried to explain this to Fliss as she got ready for the party that night, but she didn’t understand, “How can you be frightened of crowds?” she demanded impatiently, her hands on her hips, making her white strapless silk effect ballgown rise up a few inches to reveal black Doc Martens, “You were alright on tour, and you were fine when we went to Juvenile Hell last month…”

  “It’s different!” I protested.

  Fliss was almost ready, she had to do her hair and make-up, and fix her tiara, but that was it.  “Why are you doing this?” she threw up her white satin-gloved hands in exasperation.

  “Because I’m scared!”

  There was silence.

  “It’s O.K to be scared,” she said at last, her eyes puzzled, “everyone’s scared.”

  “I can’t do this!”

  “Yes you can!” the doorbell rang, we glared at each other, “Well,” she relented, “at least answer that if you won’t get changed.”

  I didn’t move, “It’ll be Emily, for you.”

  “I’m well aware of that,” she sighed in a world weary voice, seeming at once older and younger than her nineteen years, “I shall be getting ready.”

  Emily frowned as I ushered her up the stairs, I saw her look me up and down, but she didn’t say anything.  “I’m not going,” I said at last.

  “Oh.”

  We had reached the top of the stairs, and I ushered her into the living room, “Fliss is still getting ready.”

  Emily nodded, and sat down on the sofa.  She was wearing a pale green cotton dress, with a greyish green cardigan and a pale blue cloche hat, her mousy hair was just visible below it.  I scrutinised her as closely as she had scrutinised me, and I saw her face glow pinkly beneath her hat as she stared at the floor.  “Romola Garai as Cassandra Mortmain in ‘I Capture The Castle’.” I pronounced with certainty, “Fliss loves that film, I prefer the book though.”

  Emily nodded shyly, and the atmosphere in the room became thicker and more claustrophobic with our mutual awkwardness.  Just when things were about to become unbearable, Fliss made her entrance, “Ta da!” she sang out, twirling so that the skirt of her dress caught the air and filled out, displaying her boots once more.

  I raised an eyebrow, and enquired coldly, “And you are?”

  “Princess Amelia Mignonette Grimaldi Thermopolis Renaldo of Genovia” protested Fliss forlornly, “I told you…” She threw herself down on the sofa next to Emily, and her eyes lit up as she looked her up and down, “Cassandra!”

  As I waited in the kitchen for the kettle to boil, I stared out at the night sky and brooded.  I was still in two minds as to whether to go or not.  After a few minutes, I heard footsteps on the lino behind me, and turned around.  It was Emily.  She had removed her hat, and was awkwardly clutching it with both hands as she tried not to look at me.  The kettle had boiled, and I was pouring the water into the cups when she finally spoke.  “You should come with us tonight,” she said in her thin, quiet voice, “he’d want you to be there.”

  I shook my head, “I can’t.”

  “Being scared isn’t an excuse, Maggie,” her voice took on a determined edge, “I didn’t want to come, yet here I am.”

  “Why didn’t you want to come?”

  “I don’t like crowds,”

  I nodded.

  “But… I have to deal with it, if I’m ever going to be a sound engineer.”

  “I don’t mind gigs,” I protested, “the audience are at the front of the stage, I’m at the back… they can’t see me half the time, and I can’t really see them, it’s…”

  “Walking through crowds, being part of a crowd?”

  “Yes!”

  “If you want,” she began nervously, “I’ll stick with you tonight, get you through it…”

  “It’s not that…” I sighed.

  “Then what is it Maggie?”

  “It’s… being there, for this, for this particular party.”

  “Oh.”  There was an awkward silence, before she said, “You’re scared of Fergus.”

  “Of messing up,” I corrected her softly.

  “If you don’t go,” she maintained, “you have messed up.”

  “And if I go, and it all goes wrong?”

  “Worry about it when it happens.”

  I nodded, “I know you’re right, deep down.  I’ve been telling myself that all week.”

  She glanced at her watch, “We’ve still got time, why don’t you go and get changed? I’ll take the drinks through.”

  I nodded, and then made my way back along the corridor towards my room.  My hands were shaking as I slipped the dress over my head; the fabric slithered over my shoulders and breasts, and hung, loosely, yet not too loosely, on me.  I didn’t pause to check myself in the mirror; I thought I’d better fix my hair and make-up before my hands were shaking too badly to manage.  I picked up my brush, only to see it fall from my hand moments later.  “Shit,” I muttered as I got down on my hands and knees to pick it up.  Other hands were already there: Fliss and Emily.  They smiled up at me with impish charm, and one pair of brown eyes and one pair of blue glinted in amusement.

  Fliss marched me over to my bed, “Sit,” she commanded.

  I obediently did so.

  She fixed my hair as Emily slid long, black elbow length gloves over my trembling arms.  When that was done, Fliss carefully applied fresh foundation and powder before carefully painting my lips a neutral pink, not too pale, not too dark.  As she finished, Emily fastened the pearl choker, and I slid my feet into the pair of black kitten heels that were waiting.  Emily took my left hand, Fliss my right and I stumbled as they pulled me to my feet.

   “Come on,” Fliss led me out of the room and along the corridor, back into the living room.  “Coat!” Emily held out my long, black wool coat for me to put on, “Handbag!” Emily produced it, and handed it to me, “Keys!” Emily jangled them.  “Right, let’s go!” and, somehow, I found myself being hustled from the room and down the stairs.  I was at the bus stop before I realised what had happened.

  But in the cloakroom above the party, my nervousness returned.  I can’t do this. I thought as women and girls brushed past me, fighting for room at the mirror.  I had hidden myself by the coats, and was trying, without success, to disappear into the wall.  The air was thick with powder, hairspray, and the scent of a thousand different perfumes; the noise deafening from what felt like as many conversations.  Flora appeared, wearing a white beret with a smartly tailored skirt and coat, and I nodded gravely as she waved at me, Faye Dunaway, Bonnie Parker, Bonnie And Clyde, I noted.  She was eclipsed somewhat by the entrance of Nat, clad in a slinky, twenties style evening dress, her face daubed with pale foundation, scarlet lipstick, and blue eyeshadow, her hair newly cut and hanging to her shoulders in loose waves, “Tallulah Bankhead!” roared someone from the doorway.  Nat and I turned as one, and saw… “Sally Bowles!” exclaimed Nat as Violet slunk into the room, “My God, darling, aren’t you cold in those suspenders?” as she bore Violet off to a private corner, I observed a sultry looking girl, with dark sleepy eyes, her long black hair hung across her face.  Tight bootcut jeans, a maroon coloured leather jacket worn over a tight, garishly patterned shirt, and a peaked cap completed the vision.  So this is Shanti Nair, I thought as she slunk after Violet, a fierce scowl on her face.

  Fliss interrupted my thoughts; “Ready?” she and Emily were waiting.  I nodded, and we got up to leave.

  The cloakrooms were on entry level, that is, ground level, but the party was downstairs in the basement.  My heart sank as I saw the party below, and the staircase spiralling down, right into the centre of the room, that we would have to descend in order to get there.  “I’ll go first,” said Fliss, kindly, as she began to descend.  Emily soon followed her, and I watched her reach the floor and wait, expectantly, with Fliss as I began to descend.

  I tried to keep my eye on them as I moved, mechanically, down the stairs.  They gazed up at me like two hopeful, trusting angels, guiding me.  I could hear the clatter of shoes on the stairs behind me, “Knew someone would come as Audrey Hepburn,” said a woman’s voice with knowing complacency.  “She’s all wrong for it,” interjected someone else, “she’s too tall, her hair’s the wrong colour, and you can see her shoulder blades from here; that’s not gamine, that’s emaciated, and what the hell is that thing on her back…” “A tiger, I think,” said the first voice.  I tried to pay attention to what my feet were doing, and to keep my eyes on Fliss and Emily, but the dress was long, and in moving to the next step, I tripped and stumbled into the rail.  My eyes left Fliss and Emily, and in trying to find them again in the crowd, I saw him instead.  He was watching me, and I began to blush in embarrassment.  What little self control was left bolted as I looked away, and I heard the woman behind me snort like a horse as I ran past her, and back up the stairs, seeing nothing but the possibility of my escape.

  I slammed through the cloakroom door, and threw myself back down on the bench beneath the coats.  I pulled my knees up to my chest, and lowered my head onto them as I tried to make myself as small and invisible as possible.  I didn’t notice Fliss’ presence until she spoke, “You have to come back down,” she murmured, quietly but firmly, “you have to try again.”

  “No!” it was muffled, but she heard me.

  “Yes.”

  “No,” I sobbed, “I’m going home, I should never have come, they’re all laughing at me, I heard them, they’re all…”

  “Please, Maggie.”

  “No!”

  There was an awkward pause, and then she said, “I can’t leave you here in this state.”

  “I’ll call a taxi, I’ll go home.”

  “I still don’t like leaving…”

  “You should go.”

  “I still think…”

  “Go, Fliss, please,” I pleaded, “enjoy yourself, you can tell me all about it when you get home.”

  She didn’t reply, but I heard footsteps, and the door closed as someone left the room.  Slowly, but surely, I uncurled myself and took in my surroundings.  The cloakroom wasn’t as crowded as it had been earlier, but there were enough people around to make an audience.  Some of the faces were sympathetic, but many more were staring at me like I was an animal at the zoo, an expression I’ve become all too familiar with over the past year.  Perhaps the most considerate were those who were busying themselves with hair and make-up, who had either missed my outburst, or were simply pretending that they had.  I wasn’t ready to go home yet, I realised, but I couldn’t stay in that cloakroom either.  I decided to go for a walk.

  As I walked back towards the city centre, past The Gates, where bands were already loading equipment back into vans and cars, I began to relax a little.  The air was chilly, but the lighting was so good along Piccadilly that it barely felt dark at all.  The fountains had been switched off for the day, but I sat down beside them anyway, and stared through them, into the distance, not really seeing anything.  I began to wish that I had a cigarette, or a coffee… something to occupy my hands.  As the hours passed, I grew more relaxed, my shoulders un-knotted themselves, and I was able to breathe normally again as my heartbeat slowed down to its normal speed.  I began to think about Fergus as I watched the clear silvery moon shining in the deep blue, chilly sky.  I knew that I had blown it now, that this had been my last chance to prove to him that I was normal and capable of… what exactly? I wasn’t quite sure.  Being normal, I suppose, I thought gloomily.  My hands were still itching for something to do, so I walked over to Spar and bought a pack of ten, some matches, and a coffee.  I smoked the cigarettes, one after another, almost without noticing, as I continued to think.  When they were gone, I drank the cold, bitter, black coffee.

  I should go back, I decided, this is my last chance with him; I can’t give up now.  The decision made, I got to my feet, and began to walk back the way I’d come.  My pace was slower this time, steadier, and more careful.  I could sense blisters forming on my heels as I walked.  Those shoes weren’t designed for distance walking, but I had to keep moving.  I had to go back.

  The cloakroom was empty when I returned, and I slipped into one of the toilet cubicles unnoticed.  I was about to emerge when the cloakroom was invaded… there really is no other word for it… by hordes of women and girls, several the worse for wear, and all looking for their coats.  My heart sank as I sat down on the floor; the party was over, what was I thinking? I was too late.  But I knew that there was no point in leaving yet, not after my oh-so-very-public exit earlier, it would involve all sorts of explanations, explanations that I couldn’t give.  Eventually, the last woman tottered out of the door, and the lights were switched off, leaving me alone in the darkness.

  It was dark in the corridor outside, but I could see the lights glowing in the basement, illuminating the darkness upstairs.  I leant over the balcony; from there I could see the dancefloor, which looked very different now that the lights were on, and I saw him… he had removed his jacket and the sleeves of his crisp white shirt were now rolled up to his elbows.  He was sweeping up the debris left behind after the evening’s entertainment, and quietly whistling.  As I descended the staircase for the second time that evening, I recognised the tune that he was whistling; it was Rodgers and Hart’s ‘My Funny Valentine’.  My heels clicked against the metal steps as I, cautiously, made my way down.  He looked up, and our eyes met.  In the surprise at seeing me there, he let go of the handle, and the brush fell to the floor with a clatter.

  I walked across the floor to him, and stopped just in front of him.  I couldn’t make the final step though, couldn’t reach out to him, or touch him.  After what felt like an agonisingly long silence, I reached down to the floor and picked up the forgotten brush.  I handed it to him, and he took it from me, then, before he could say, or do, anything, I walked over to the tables that ringed the dancefloor, picked up a bin bag, and began to clear the rubbish from the tables.

  When the tidying was complete, he took me by the hand and said, kindly, “Come on, I’ll give you a lift home.”

  We were waiting at the traffic lights; about halfway through our journey, when I asked, “Will you take me to yours?”

  I saw him blink in surprise, “What?”

  The nervousness increased as I whispered, “Will you take me to your house?”

  Our eyes locked for a few moments before he said, “Yes, alright.”

  We drove the rest of the way to Heaton Chapel in silence.

  I perched, nervously, on the edge of the sofa, and waited.  Before too long, he re-emerged from the kitchen, carrying two mugs of tea.  I took the mug he passed me in my gloved hands, and set it down on the table in front of me as he joined me on the sofa.  He took hold of my left hand and, very slowly and carefully, began to remove the glove, and then… he stopped, and I knew that he had seen the cuts and scars along my arm and around my wrist.  He didn’t speak, but his face said everything; he looked as though he was about to cry, but he didn’t let go of my arm.  The glove was off now, but he still didn’t let go; with one hand he held my hand in a loose clasp whilst with the other he traced every scar, every cut on my arm and wrist with his fingers.  Once this was done, he removed my other glove, without saying a word.

  When I had drunk my drink, I sagged against him a little and rested my head on his shoulder.  He put his arm around my shoulders, and asked in a quiet voice that was thick with tension, “Why did you want to come home with me?”

  “I wanted to be with you,” I murmured.

  We kissed, slowly and hesitantly at first, then for longer, and longer as our nervousness slowly disappeared.

  When we paused next, I asked, “Why did you cry?”

  “When?” his voice was low and sleepy, like my own.

  “Before, when you took my gloves off, you were nearly crying.”

  To my surprise, the same strained and upset expression returned to his face, and he moved away from me slightly before he said, very quietly, very tensely, “Because it reminded me of you at your worst.  I always try to think of you at your best.”  There was a pause before he continued, “For a few moments, I was remembering that night, remembering you screaming at me, you pulling your clothes off, and… I think the worst thing was not being able to touch you, not being able to reach you, to pull you out of it.  It was like there was a barrier there, preventing me…” He took hold of my left hand, and caressed it absently as he continued to speak, “I never stopped loving you, not then; not even afterwards when I was seeing other women, never stopped loving you.”

  I rested my head against his shoulder again, and he put his arms around me once more.  In the silence, he asked, “Do you love me?”

  “Yes”

  “And you’ll stay?” there was a hopefulness in his voice.

  “Yes.”

   Our kisses grew longer and more passionate as evening became morning, and I lay in his arms at 4am, my dress on the floor, forgotten.  His shirt hung loose and unfastened, half on, half off.  “Do you have…?” I began.

  “Yes, in my room.”

  I rested my head against his chest, and breathed “that’s alright then.”

  When the time came to leave the sofa, my nervousness returned.  I could sense an awkwardness on his part too as we walked through to his room.  He squeezed my hand with a clammy palm, and I sensed tension, an awkwardness that was reflected in me; But it’ll be O.K, I told myself, It has to be O.K

  As we lay on his bed together, he touched my hair, now loose and hanging down my back, spilling across my shoulders and my face.  I stroked his face, cautiously and softly, and he kissed me, so softly, so hesitantly.  When the time came, he was very careful with me, very gentle, like he was afraid of damaging me, or breaking me.

  Afterwards, I lay in his arms, listening to his heartbeat, feeling his chest rise and fall with every breath, until I fell asleep.

  When I woke up, it was daylight, and the sun was shining on my face.  I felt very tired as I sleepily rolled over, off Fergus, and towards his bedside cabinet, where his clock radio sat.  Twelve twenty seven said the display.  My pills, I thought, sleepily, as I groped along the top of the cabinet for a packet and a bottle that I would never locate.  Panic overwhelmed my sleepiness as I hauled myself up and out of bed.  My clothes, where were my clothes… feeling distracted, I began to shake Fergus in an increasingly frantic manner “Huh?” he mumbled eventually, his eyes still shut, “What? Whaizzit?”

  “I have to go home, I have to take my pills, and I can’t find my clothes, and I should have taken my pills about four hours ago, and…”

  He took hold of my arm, and held me until I was still.  “Wait,” with a good deal of wincing and groaning, he hauled himself up into a sitting position, “Start again.”

  He heard me out as I explained about my medication, and the importance of taking it every day, and at the right time.  “But I don’t see why you should rush off home,” he said as he reached for his mobile, “I’ll text Fliss, get her to bring them over.”

  “But…” I protested.

  “No buts,” he said firmly, “after last night, I’m not letting you leave, or not just yet anyway.  Relax, lie back down again, you’re making me nervous…”

  And so I lay down once more, and he texted Fliss with one hand, whilst stroking my hair in a supremely soothing manner with the other.  “Don’t worry,” he murmured, “it’s all going to be fine.”

  Fliss was already waiting in the living room by the time I had got out of bed and scrambled into Fergus’ old bathrobe.  It was too big for me, and I had to wrap it around me, and then wrap the belt around twice before it was secure enough not to flap open; it was short too, hanging several inches above my knees.  I think that Fliss had sized up the situation long before I walked into the room; she turned from Fergus, naked from the waist up, to me in the ill fitting bathrobe, and smiled shrewdly as she handed me a carrier bag.  “I put the pills on top,” she explained as I took it from her.  As I was seeing her out, she paused in the doorway, and asked, “When will you be home?”

  “Sunday night.” I promised.

  She kissed me on the cheek, and said in a maternal tone, “Be careful.”

  “Yes mother,” I sighed.  She and I smiled like conspirators.

  At the gate, she turned to wave, and I waved back.

  As I sat down once again on the sofa, with my pills and a glass of water, Fergus asked, “What kind of pills are they?”

  “That small white oval one is an antidepressant,” I pointed it out to him, “and the big yellow, capsule shaped pill is a multivitamin.”  He watched in engrossed silence as I swallowed both pills.

  “That’s it?” he asked.

  I nodded, “That’s it.”

  One day soon, we were going to have to have a talk about this, I realised; about medication, about depression and self harm, one day, but not that day.

  As he kissed me, my eyes strayed to Fliss’ carrier bag.  She had put two changes of clothes in it, which was a bit of a waste really, given that I didn’t need any clothes until Sunday night.

  So, now it’s Sunday night, and I am back in my own room, on my own bed, writing down my story.

  Fergus dropped me off in the car at about eight.  We sat outside for a while, with the motor turned off, holding hands in silence.  He kissed me, and I kissed him back, for a long, long time.  As I got out of the car, he told me that he would call me tomorrow evening after work.  I nodded.  As I walked around the car, he wound down the window on his side, and we kissed goodbye once more.  I waved to him from the kerb opposite as he drove away, then unlocked the front door and stepped over the threshold.  The door slammed as I let the handle slip through my fingers, I leant back against it with a sigh, my eyes closed… remembering.

  When I opened my eyes, I saw Fliss.  She was standing at the top of the stairs, watching me, with amusement in her eyes and a smile upon her face, “Welcome home, Juliet,” she said.

Chapter Fifty Four: The Brightness Of The Night

Fliss was checking her make-up in the mirror on the landing when I finally crawled out of bed yesterday morning.  She was wearing a dove blue fifties style ballgown with silver kitten heels and silver fishnet tights, and she was singing ‘Busy Line,’ alternated with ‘Together We Are Beautiful.’  As I blearily sat down at the kitchen table with my mug of coffee, she appeared in the doorway, her hair held up with one hand, and a pair of green and silver winged sunglasses balanced on her nose, “What do you think?”

  I frowned, “It’s a little over the top, makes you look older.”

  Unlike Fliss, I was clad in my nightshirt, what with not really needing to be up yet, and a jumper and woolly socks, because the October weather is really starting to bite.

  Fliss let go of her hair, and it cascaded, slowly and luxuriously to her shoulders.  She placed her hand on her hip, and protested, “It’s the video shoot; it’s meant to be over the top!”

  I shrugged indifferently, “Well, have fun anyway…”

  “Sure you don’t want to come?” she asked as she removed the glasses with careful fingers.  She peered at me anxiously as she polished the lenses.

  “No, I’d only be in the way.”

  She had an interview scheduled with ‘City Life’ after the shoot, so I didn’t see her until early evening, and our soundcheck at The Twilight.

  The wind was howling through the early evening darkness as I sidestepped the puddles and over spilling drains of Piccadilly and Oldham Street.  Whilst the darkness of the evening was less black and unforgiving than we frequently endured in the Heatons, the air was cold with the wind, and the commuters travelling home had yet to be replaced by the creatures of the night.  I was soaked to the skin by the time I reached the Twilight and, if it was cold outside, then that was as nothing when set against the chilly atmosphere that awaited me inside.  Katy was evidently in a mood about something, and I watched with a strong sense of ill foreboding as she unloaded amps, leads, and guitars from her car outside the Twilight’s grimy exterior.  “You can do the drums,” she snapped, “you haven’t done any work yet today,” and with a heavy heart, I began to unload my kit onto the rain-drenched pavements: It was evidently going to be a long night.

  Part way through our soundcheck, she climbed down from the flimsy milk crate supported stage and stood in front of it; a solemn figure in black, watching in the relative lightness of The Twilight, with a fierce scowl on her face.  “You’re playing too fast again,” she snapped suddenly, “don’t those pills slow you down at all?”

  I felt the familiar fire of anger spark and climb through me, but I bit my lip and reined in my temper.  Bawling out Katy never worked in the past, and I have no reason to imagine it will work now.

  Meanwhile, she was homing in on Flora, who was, apparently, “standing wrong,” and looking distracted, “like you want to be somewhere else.”

  “I do want to be somewhere else,” muttered Flora, truculently, under her breath.

  But it was Fliss who received the full impact of Katy’s wrath, mainly – I suspect – because Katy hadn’t liked how she’d acted at the video shoot earlier, “You need to spend longer working on your vocals, Fliss, and guitar; I feel like I carry you enough already, and it isn’t fair anymore, you need to put the work in, concentrate on singing well, not just on how you look.”

  Once the soundcheck was over, Katy stormed out, obviously intending to go for tea by herself.  It was still raining, and the wind was still howling, so Fliss, Flora and I joined the other two bands on the bill, The Beeds, and Fly, around a dark wooden table, stained and sticky with beer and spirits, and watched each band soundcheck as a voluptuous brown haired, brown eyed girl in black walked from table to table, her flip flop clad feet and damp, flagging combats flapping and thwacking as she lit pale tea lights and thick red candles in dark green bottles.

  Once they had finished, the three of us left the vivid glow of the Twilight and made our way along the darkly shining wet pavements of Oldham Street towards the damp monuments of Piccadilly.  Turning right, we passed the bouncers starting their shifts outside the bars and clubs, passed the arcades and bus shelters, and turned towards the deserted white buildings of Aytoun Campus.  We cut across the eerie blackness of Minshall Street carpark, heading for the delicatessens and chip shops that fringed Sackville Street and Canal Street, the rainbow coloured flags waved forlornly in the damp wind as we passed them, heads bowed, hands stuffed into pockets as we battled with the cold.  We ate our tea on a wall by Minshall Street carpark, and watched in silence as the last remnants of the sun disappeared overhead.

  Jenny had arrived by the time we arrived back, and was having her ear bent by Katy.  I watched warily from the faded oak and red velour of the bar as she shook her long damp magenta hair away from her face.  Her battered black leather jacket leant her folded arms a defensive air, and her face bore the well-recognised expression of weary laxed interest.  Although the gig itself was fine, and our set well-attended and received, Katy’s mood did not lift.  She ignored Fliss and I entirely, and pulled Flora into a corner almost immediately afterwards, where she proceeded to rant at length.  Whilst this was going on, I quietly slipped out to the taxi rank in Piccadilly and grabbed a cab to come over to The Twilight to pick up my drums, it wasn’t cheap, but God it was worth it.  I was home by eleven, and was just settling down on the sofa with the cat, a hot chocolate, and my battered copy of Stella Gibbons’ ‘Here Be Dragons’, when I heard the door slam downstairs.  Two pairs of feet came clattering up the stairs, and I could hear raised voices: Flora and Fliss.  As they reached the top of the stairs, I heard Flora say: “…And I don’t know how much longer I can put up with this shit!”  As she charged through the doorway, I noticed that she was scowling furiously, “Where did you get to?” she snapped.

  Fliss and I both felt in need of a diversion to take our minds off… everything, so we went out tonight, having arranged to meet Fliss’ friends from Chorlton, Angel and the Razorblades, in town.  We got off the bus in Piccadilly around eight, and made our way along the shadowy lit streets of Piccadilly, turning right once again by Spar, and heading through the traffic and bustling, busy crowds towards Minshall Street.  The band hailed us from atop the same wall as Flora, Fliss and I had so gloomily eaten our tea only twenty hours before.  In the darkness, I spotted Kylie, the singer who had so memorably puked all over our doorstep at Fliss’ seventeenth birthday party, the night she first met Adrienne, I couldn’t help but recall.  She was swinging her short pale legs impatiently, and I could hear the noise made by her black patent leather Doc Martens as she bashed them against the rough red brick wall; thwack, thwack… Her muddy brown hair was up in bunches, and she was shivering as she folded her arms across her chest, pulling the worn black wool cardigan close against the thin scarlet satin of her slip dress.  Next to her was Rosa, a grave, serious girl with dark soulful eyes.  She was wearing thick, scuffed boots like the workmen wear on the roads, and army surplus combat trousers.  Her black t-shirt bore the distinctive red silhouette of four girls; the Red Vinyl Fur logo, and was partially hidden by her green and brown camouflage jacket.  Her thick dark hair hung down her back in untidy waves, and a smouldering cigarette hung from one fingerless glove clad hand as a brown woolly hat restrained her wild hair.  Next to her on the wall was Kit, whose long perfectly straight jet black hair hung loose, frequently falling across her face and into her eyes.  She had a pale, round face, and wide dark eyes.  Her PVC jacket, flame red in colour, was undone, revealing a short Girls From Mars t-shirt and black jeans.  Yan, her cousin, sat next to her; his own jet hair was streaked with golden blonde in places, and hung long and loose to his shoulders.  Like his cousin, he was pale and dark eyed, but with an angular frame disguised by his baggy jeans and Hello Cuca t-shirt.

  Kylie jumped down off the wall as we approached, and started to hop from leg to leg, her arms still wrapped around her chest as her teeth chattered with the cold, “Drinks at Retro Bar first, yeah?” she shivered as the other three retrieved their bikes.

  I nodded.

  As we walked along the badly lit narrow back streets that fringed the village, I noticed Fliss drop back and join Rosa and Kylie as I led the way.  Soon we were heading along Sackville Street, away from the rainbow flags and bright lights and designer clothes, towards the darker, more remote, cheaper delights of Whitworth Street and beyond. We were heading towards the unfashionable end of Sackville Street, the forgotten end, which led us under the rattling grey railway bridge to Spar, and the shabby end of town; a kind of student bohemia in the middle of nowhere, where Retro Bar inexplicably stood.  Kylie and Rosa were giggling like naughty schoolgirls on an illicit visit to the city, and Fliss was wearing her fifties ballgown again, this time with pale blue satin elbow length gloves and her best diamante tiara.  She looked like a debutante on her way to the palace to be presented, one who had been led astray into the rough side of town by the girls from the local estate.

  The band parked their bikes by some railings near the club and, once inside, Fliss gleefully commandeered one of the big corner tables opposite the pool table with Rosa and Kylie, leaving me to get the drinks as Yan and Kit quietly followed them over.  The bar was pretty full tonight and, as usual, the crowd was fairly mixed.  A T.V was suspended, unobtrusively, from the ceiling, largely to the indifference of those present as they chatted and shot pool in the smoky warmth of the bar.  I sank down into the soft worn velour and wood of the seats, and watched as Kylie and Fliss drank strawberry beers, noisily and messily, whilst Rosa brooded over a snakebite and black, and Yan and Kit chatted in cantonese over cheeky vimtos.

  Meelan arrived later, having finished work late at the latté emporium she works at near Saint Anne’s Square, and we headed back through the designer clubs and apartments of Sackville Street towards Portland Street. Here we crossed paths with lagered up weekenders before cutting across Piccadilly to the gentrified Northern Quarter heartland of Oldham Street, humming with the buzz created by those ever multiplying boutiques and apartments, (“Oldham Street,” Flora had deadpanned one day, “Is Carnaby Street for the noughties.”) to Juvenile Hell.

  The giddy hedonism of Girl Night sat uneasily with the chic Northern Quarterness of Juvenile Hell somehow, yet such was the exuberance of the young, largely female, crowd that it simply didn’t matter.  Through the garish pink, orange and green u.v lighting and the crowd of steaming bodies, I was able to observe Nat, clad in black PVC and lycra, undulating to the sound of a fairly faceless post rock ensemble up on stage.  At the sound desk was Emily, clad in her usual baggy jeans and t-shirt, coolly and warily sharing a bench with a couple of young lovers, who were feverishly groping, eating, and all but copulating.  Next to me, Meelan produced a crumpled homemade Valerie t-shirt (bearing the legend, “All My Heroes Hate Me”) from her bag, and pulled it on over her uniform.  Fliss eased her way through the crowd with a confidence borne of practice, and threw herself down on the bench next to Emily, causing her to budge up, and by consequence, causing the young lovers to fall off each other with a supreme lack of grace.  With a shared expression of pure poison, they moved across to the next table, whereupon they continued where they had left off.  I noticed that Emily seemed shy in Fliss’ company, yet quietly pleased to have her there beside her.

  Kylie and Rosa joined Meelan and me under the fairy lights at the bar, whilst Yan and Kit headed down the front to watch the band.  All three girls asked questions about our video, and were disappointed when I told them that I hadn’t been present at the filming.  “Fliss’ll tell you all about it though,” I reassured them.  As the band played, pleasantly enough, in the background, we discussed the Razorblades.  It transpires that Aiden from Dew and his girlfriend, Sophie, have a record label called Sambuca Records, and they want to do a single with the band.  “I mean, it’ll only be one single, if they can get the money together,” said Kylie, a little defensively, “But it’s a start, and it’s how Titanium Rose got started, isn’t it?”

  I nodded.

 I talked to Nat later as she took a breather by the bar.  Amber slung empty bottles into a dump bin at the end of the bar, and frostily served thirsty punters and teenage girls who glowed with the heat of the crowd and shone with excited exuberance.  Nat glanced fondly at one such pair, two very young plump girls who had covered themselves in glitter and eyeshadow and were wearing cheap little nylon dresses in garish prints, their hands were gripped in solidarity and, possibly, love, as they trotted back to the dancefloor with their cokes.  “I love my job,” she sighed contentedly.  Her contentment turned to excitement as she told me of her latest scheme, “I want to do a Juvenile Hell singles club, or Girl Night singles club, it’ll be like the Club Beetroot series Flotsam and Jetsam did with Nice’N’Sleazy in Glasgow,” she enthused, “or like Live At The Roxy in the seventies.  No one records these bands, and when they do occasionally get signed it’s too late and the spirits gone, all polish and no substance.  If I record them now, I get them playing live whilst they’re still experimenting, and that seems so much more worthwhile.  I’m going to talk to Emily about it later, I’d ask Katy only I don’t think I can afford her, plus she’s a bitch to work with, I did consider asking Fergus…” she trailed off, and I sensed the discomfort.  Her eyes were wary, and her voice was thick with caution, as she said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring him up.”

  I shrugged, “Its O.K”

  “Have you seen much of him lately?” she asked cautiously, her eyes worried.

  I shook my head, afraid to commit myself, and especially wary of mentioning his visit to my hotel room whilst we were on tour.  I still get that little lift in my heart whenever I hear his name; it’s what makes it so hard to give him up, well, that and other things…

  The glitter girls were jumping up and down in a frenzy to Le Tigre’s ‘T.K.O’, the Hot Chick Remix, still holding hands, as our conversation turned to the increasingly unstable international situation.  Most days I’m not sure what to think about Iraq, so I try not to think about it at all, it doesn’t stop my feeling things though, mainly a lingering, secret, guilty pain whenever I see the current death figures on the news.  I feel guilty because I didn’t protest strongly enough about Iraq and at the back of my mind the whole time was the knowledge that thousands, millions of people would die.  On top of this feeling is the depressing knowledge, limited perhaps, of the ongoing tit for tat carnage in Israel, and the Beslan massacre in Russia, of which I feel I have seen and heard too much: what links them all is suicide bombers I suppose.

  “There’s no use in worrying about it,” sighed Nat, “what will happen will happen; it isn’t as though we have any control over it.”

  I nodded glumly.

  A number of fanzine writers were hanging around at the other end of the bar, young and feigning boredom, their long hair flapping against their faces.  Some of the girls had adopted the early Courtney Love kinderwhore look of ripped babydolls and slashed red lipstick, and a few of their friends had experimented with fifties and seventies clothes, many more were lounging nonchalantly against the bar in jeans and t-shirts.  I heard them stop talking as I walked past them on my way to the toilets, and I could sense their eyes on me.  As I turned the corner, I heard one of the girls proclaim, “She doesn’t look that bad…”

  When I returned, they had moved away from the bar, and their place had been taken by a group of staff from The Gates, including Sabine, who was neatly glamorous in a black shirt and skirt.  She was leaning over the bar, one pale elbow propping up her head, and her sensitive, intelligent, lovely face was dangerously close to the pale, angular face of Amber.  I watched Amber, and then I noticed Nat at the far end of the bar, she was talking to Kit, but I sensed that she wasn’t really listening to her.  She was gazing past the younger girl, and her eyes were on Amber… on Sabine and Amber.

  Towards the end of the night, as the crowd began to thin and the mood became increasingly tired and emotional, Amber left the bar and slow danced with Sabine.  Across the room, I watched as Fliss looked up from her conversation with Emily and caught sight of them.  Her eyes flicked anxiously from one to the other, and I could tell that she was thinking about Nat.

  But Nat was now intent on the process of clearing up.  I found her in her office in the bowels of the building, sorting out the money for Emily, the bands having already been paid.  From the doorway, I took in the office itself as she sat at her desk, completely absorbed in her work.  There were a number of posters on the walls now, not just our shabby black and white one and the old Girls From Mars one.  I spotted posters for Angel and the Razorblades, alongside Clinch and Dew.  There was a corner of the room reserved for press coverage, with a feature on Girl Night positioned clearly at the centre, and there were photos too, including one of Violet on stage at Juvenile Hell, her expression one of fierce concentration.  The paperwork on her desk was neatly arranged, and a basket full of demos and web links was placed next to a midi hi-fi, waiting to be listened to or followed up.  I knew that she hadn’t noticed that I was there, so I turned to leave, and was nearly knocked over by Dylan.  He nodded curtly to me as I passed him, and as Nat looked up from her paperwork, I saw her expression change, her shoulders tense, and her mouth set in a grim line as she nodded to him.  I closed the door.

  “What was that all about do you think?” breathed Fliss from somewhere behind me.

  I jumped in surprise, and spun round to face her, a glare on my face as I hissed, “I wish you wouldn’t creep up on people like that!”

  “Sorry,” she whispered, “I was looking for Meelan; I wanted to let her know we were going.”

  “I haven’t seen her; we’ll find her on the way out.”

  We made our way up the creaking grey wooden stairs to the near empty venue, where we hooked up with Meelan (who was to spend the night on our sofa) and headed out into the night once more.

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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