Chapter Sixty: Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?

Nat and I could hear Fliss, Kylie, and Meelan performing three part harmonies to The Waitresses ‘Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?’ as we got ready to go out. The three of them were in Fliss’ room, preparing for an evenings entertainment at The Gates (Mad Girls In The Attic were playing) and The Thompson Arms (Shake-O-Rama!) whilst Nat and I were in my room, preparing for our own night out. They emerged as I rooted under the sofa in the living room for my boots, and I was struck by their air of exuberance. Dressed in jeans, her hair pinned up for the evening, and wearing a blue silk shirt, Fliss looked pretty and happy. Meelan was in her usual skate jeans and t-shirt, and Kylie was wearing blue denim three quarter length trousers with Fliss’ old blue velour halter top. As Fliss returned to her room for her handbag, I watched in concern as Kylie produced a pack of cigarettes from her handbag, lit one, and inhaled. I hadn’t known that she smoked.

  The three of them had left by the time Nat and I were ready. We were going to see The Renaissance Girls, Iona Black’s band, and I was excited as we waited in the living room for my mum to pick us up. The first Renaissance Girls album had come out in 2001, and had been a self-titled masterpiece of jagged, dark, alternative rock. It had been reasonably well received, critically speaking, and had sold quite well, so good things had been expected of the band. We had waited with a great deal of excited expectation for the second album, and waited, and waited, and waited… But things had happened in the intervening four years, both personally and musically for the band, not to mention for Nat and me, and in the thick of all that history, The Renaissance Girls had been forgotten; until now. The second album had finally arrived, and we were more than ready for it.

  “Remember when we went to see that band when we were sixteen?” said Nat, “and they did a cover of a Firefly song?”

  I nodded, “They were called The Midnight Girls” Nat often liked to test me on memories of our collective youth.

  “Do you remember which song it was?”

  “Of course,” I said, “it was ‘Silver Bells’, one of Iona’s songs.”

  Nat nodded, “I miss all that, all those late night gigs and sleepovers.”

  “And school in the morning.”

  “No,” she said, resolutely, “I don’t miss that.”

  I smiled as I leant back against the sofa and closed my eyes.

  Mum arrived a few minutes later, looking considerably more vital and healthy than she had at our last meeting. I’d spoken to her on the phone a few days ago, and she had calmly assured me that both her fainting spells and morning sickness had now ceased. There had been an awkward moment when she mentioned, very reluctantly, that Thomas had asked her to marry him again, and that she had said no. But I had sensed that it hadn’t been the whole story; she had sounded far less sure than she had a month ago. When she arrived she was wearing her old faded black jeans and her Doc Martens, and her jacket was unbuttoned, revealing a slight bump against the fabric of her t-shirt. It wasn’t a big bump, it was just, well, noticeable. Nat walked over to her and hugged her hello, and I hesitantly followed suit a minute or two later.

  There was a sizeable queue outside the Students Union, and the touts were out in force, merrily, and mercilessly, working Oxford Road. When we did get inside, we had to sign in as temporary SU members, always a hectic and crowded affair, before heading for the bar and getting our drinks.

  It was on our way upstairs to the bar, and the gig, that we crossed paths with Lalita Cain, who was accompanied by a pretty young girl of about Fliss’ age. “This is Aurora, my god-daughter,” she explained, after we had exchanged awkward greetings. I noticed that she wouldn’t look at Nat, and that Nat was quietly edging away from our group as she pretended to be equally fascinated by the posters for upcoming gigs and her Academy listings guide. “We were just heading backstage.” We let them go, and it was only as we arrived at the bar that mum turned to Nat, and said, “That was Aurora Gough, wasn’t it?”

  Nat nodded, “Lalita did mention her a few times, when we were still on speaking terms that is. She and Aurora are very close.”

  None of us spoke any more about it, for we knew the story. Iona Black had married Taylor Gough, her producer, in 1987, two years after she had had his daughter, Aurora. Following their divorce in 1993, he had gained custody of Aurora and, following his death in 1996, she had been raised by his parents. Iona rarely spoke to the press, so her feelings on the situation weren’t really known, and she wasn’t the kind of woman people wrote books about, so we were unlikely to ever know. “Unless she writes her autobiography one day” said mum as she carefully massaged the bump.

  Nat shook her head, “I don’t think she’s the type to do that.”

  Mum nodded, “You’re probably right; how refreshing in this day and age.”

  “Aurora’s a nice name,” said Nat, cheerily, “Have you and Thomas decided on names yet?”

  Mum shook her head, “No, at the moment we’re just using ‘the bump’.”

  “You could go for something really distinctive like Thessaly or Tiara…”

  “Peaches or Pixie,” I added, sarcastically.

  “Suri or Jaydynn.”

  Mum shuddered.

  “Holly, because she was conceived at Christmas,” added Nat, “and if it’s a boy, he can be Nicholas.”

  “I think not.” said Mum, decisively.

  Seeing The Renaissance Girls live was very different to seeing The Beauty Queens live, I soon discovered. Because it was so long since they had last played together, and because they didn’t really have anything to prove, The Beauty Queens gig had been quite friendly and relaxed. The Renaissance Girls, by comparison, were a lot more theatrical, dark, and intense. There was a lot of epilepsy inducing lasers and lightning flashes just before the start of the set and, when it all cleared and the basic stage lighting had been restored, the spotlight lit up a small, black clad figure, looking to her left, away from the crowd, her long black hair across her face, a guitar slung across her hips: Iona Black. Her voice was a little shaky at first, but it got stronger as the songs progressed, and soon she was soaring above the jagged metallic tinged dark rock, her voice clear and strong, slightly metallic in quality, matching and enhancing the music as she sang of fear, despair, pain and isolation. Her face was white in the stark lighting, her dark eyes brooding and slightly distracted. She moved awkwardly and self consciously in her loose black long sleeved shirt and black jeans, but her performance felt sincere, albeit quieter, less flamboyant than one would expect.

  “Now there’s a woman who has gone through a lot of shit to get where she is today,” declared Nat as mum drove us back to my flat.

  I nodded in agreement. It was, after all, at least part of the attraction in my case. I liked Iona musically, but her unwillingness to sell her story, and herself, to the press was another quality I admired. Sure, the woman had problems, but she kept her personal and professional life separate, as much as she could, and I had to admire that.

  “Do you think she always wears long sleeves on stage?” asked Nat once we were back at the flat.

  “I don’t know,” I confessed as we waited in the kitchen for the kettle to boil, “I was wondering about that.”

  “It would disguise any scarring.”

  “Yes, whereas wrist bands just draw attention to it.”

  We drank our tea in comfortable silence on the sofa in the living room. As Nat wiped her mouth and checked her mug for lipstick stains, she asked, “Does Rachel being pregnant bother you?”

  I nodded, and I could feel myself blushing in discomfort as I admitted “But I don’t know why, just that it does.”

“You’re embarrassed” she said, quietly.

  I could feel myself blushing as I shook my head, “No, I’m not, really I’m not – I just don’t like talking about it.” I felt flustered, but Nat just nodded, and somehow I found the courage to continue, “I got over her and Thomas being together last year,” I admitted, “this is something else, and I just don’t feel ready to talk about it yet… I don’t know what I feel yet, or why, I just feel uncomfortable.”

  Nat smiled, “I really hated growing up as an only child,” she admitted, “I wish one of my parents had given me a brother or sister.”

  I shook my head, “But we are grown up now – it’s too late now for it to matter that way.”

  “Maybe that’s the problem.”

  There was a long silence before I felt able to say, “I don’t know how I fit into her life anymore. It was simpler when it was just me and her…” I felt like such a whiney child, but at least it was the truth, “since other people have factored in, its complicated things, and I think I’m sad that things will become more complicated again.”

  Fliss, Kylie and Meelan weren’t due back for several hours yet, so Nat slept in my room rather than risk being disturbed on the sofa. We undressed with our backs to each other before climbing into bed. As Nat rested her head on the pillow next to mine, I asked, “How’s Violet?”

  Nat smiled, wickedly, “She’s very well, thanks.”

  “Am I allowed to ask if any new developments have occurred, post Valentines Day?”

  “You can ask, I just won’t tell. I’m taking notes from Iona Black: Don’t kiss and tell.”

  “You’ve loved her for a long time now,” I reflected, calmly and blithely, “since you were eighteen or so.”

  “Almost as long as I’ve loved you,” she murmured, sleepily.

  I blushed again.

  “Does it hurt you if I say that?” she asked, anxiously.

  “No,” my face was on fire, and I felt very, very self conscious and uncomfortable. This was Nat after all; I couldn’t lie to her if I tried “I think I’ve always known. I just never knew how to handle it.”

  She kissed my neck, and said, “You don’t have to handle it, I just wanted to let you know. We won’t talk about it again.” She turned over so that her back was to me, and I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

  It took a long time, but after I had run through the day’s events in my head for a few hours, I at last began to feel sleepy. I was just about to nod off when I heard the front door open and close, and three pairs of feet as they clattered up the stairs. Sometime around dawn, I slept at last.

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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 Twenty Seven: Natural, Sensual Thing

My concern for Fliss tends to waver according to whether she appears to be having a good day or a bad day. Some days she mopes in her room, and is quiet and subdued, but other days she has Meelan and Kylie round, or they go out in Chorlton or Bolton together. They hold noisy, girly, sleepovers every few weeks or so, and on those nights, I know that I can relax and not worry about her. When I am not worrying about Fliss I seem to spend almost every minute of every day thinking about Fergus; have I ever loved anyone as intensely, as urgently, as happily as I love him? I don’t think so, and yet, I know, deep down, that there is risk attached, as there is every time. I love the way he touches me… it took so long for me to reach a point whereby I felt safe enough with him to let him so much as take hold of my hand, and every touch, every caress, means so much to me now. Ours is a slow relationship in some ways, perhaps, because of me, but I am a girl who obsesses over the little details, and his hands on my skin, his lips on mine, his breath on my face, mean more than I can ever say; he isn’t just touching me; he is teaching me to trust, and to love, again.

  Christmas was quiet this year, with everyone going their separate ways once more before re-convening in the New Year. 2003 promises to be a lively year, and for the first time that I can remember, it was Flora and Katy who were distracted at our band meeting last week, not Fliss. We were supposed to be meeting to discuss our next round of recording sessions, but Flora and Katy, naturally, felt that the war in Iraq was more important.  Fliss had made the mistake of saying, quite early into the proceedings, that America would bomb Iraq even if Britain didn’t; protests or no protests.  Katy had gazed at her with an expression of pity, and Fliss and I had lapsed into a guilty silence; a silence that did not lift, even once we had left the house.

  On the Sunday, Fergus and I watched the news with gloomy expressions.  When the report on the Anti-War march in London was shown, we fell silent; despite the downbeat narration, I found myself feeling strangely moved by the sheer number of people who had turned out for it, and yet… why didn’t I march against the war? I don’t trust George Bush, or Tony Blair, I don’t believe that the war in Iraq will be a war against terrorism, or that it has much to do with any alleged weapons of mass destruction… yet, I cannot find it within myself to go out and publicly proclaim my disapproval.  Fliss, I believe, feels something similar: Both of us would rather not see this war take place, yet we feel utterly powerless to stop it.

  Perhaps the reason why I can’t do is, at least partly, because I have had other things to worry about lately. Money has become an issue once again, mainly because I was forced to leave my job last month. I shouldn’t have done, I know, but I just couldn’t cope with it anymore. I had been keeping my increasingly prevalent migraines at bay for about a month when they began to escalate in frequency and severity, and I had to move onto stronger, and more frequent, medication. I was discussing this, and the endemic nature of the bullying and sexual harassment culture at work, one dinnertime, when I suddenly began to experience that familiar pounding headache, and blurred vision that I know so well. Nat found my pills for me, and I was just about to take them when I started to hyperventilate, and the dizziness got worse; what followed, according to Nat and my G.P, was a full scale panic attack. Nat drove me home and stayed with me until I was calm again, and she also phoned work to inform them that I wouldn’t be in the office that afternoon, or, indeed, for the rest of the week. She wanted to phone Fergus, but I didn’t want to worry him, so she stayed with me until the pain and dizziness receded. When I was at last able to see and think clearly, we talked. The first thing she said was, “I’m worried about you, Maggie May, you shouldn’t be putting yourself through this, even if you and Fliss need the money, there’s got to be a better way to earn some.”

  I shook my head; I felt limp and exhausted as I lay on the sofa, covered in sweat, and my eyes and head still hurt. “What else can I do? I don’t have qualifications; all I can do is unskilled work.”

  “Why don’t you go back to Catering or market research?”

  “I will, when we’ve enough money to stay here for another six months.”

  “Can’t you get some money from Sandra Dee?”

  “Why? It’d be like getting a bank loan.”

  She smoothed the limp, sweat darkened strands of hair away from my face, as she advised, “Let Fergus take care of you tonight, and don’t go back to work tomorrow, go and see your doctor instead. I’ll go with you.” She added, seeing my reluctance.

  I did as she said. My G.P signed me off with stress for a month, and I posted my resignation letter the same day. Nat took me to the Flea and Firkin, and I met Tasha, the bar girl who used to work at the same firm as me. We exchanged horror stories as Nat quietly sipped her pint of Guinness, and I left feeling strangely free. But the next day reality kicked in, and I had to face the fact that I was unemployed again. It’s not even like I can sign on for Jobseekers Allowance – you can’t if you leave a job voluntarily.

  What has made life so strangely wonderful, despite it all, has been Fergus, and his constant place in my thoughts. Nat never told him about my panic attack, and I only gave him the vaguest details, but he has been wonderful about it. He stayed with me the night after it had happened, and was very attentive and loving, very gentle and kind.

    “You’re very lucky,” commented Jenny one evening last week as he left the room to make drinks.

  “Hhmm?” I hadn’t really been listening.

“You and Fergus, anyone with half an eye could see he’s devoted to you.”

  I blushed, but I didn’t say anything; I’m never quite sure how to take that kind of remark, and if he is devoted to me, there’s a part of me that wonders if that’s right or not. There’s a part of me that thinks I don’t merit that degree of love, not from him, not from anyone.

  Jenny had chosen to come round to the flat on band business, but she’d done so out of hours, and on a night when Fliss was out with Kylie and Meelan and their friends in Chorlton, supposedly raiding skips, or “skipping” as it’s also known, an activity that has recently supplanted charity shopping in their collective list of enthusiasms. “I came to talk about Fliss really,” she confessed as she sipped her tea. “I’m a little worried about her, she doesn’t seem very focused at the moment, and I was wondering if her flakiness was a recent thing or not, or whether she’s always been a bit dizzy.”

  “Fliss is usually very focused,” I confessed, “and she’s usually very good as regards the band, but she’s been up in the clouds for months now.”

  “Any idea why?” probed Jenny, keenly.

  I hesitated, “Well…”

  “Fliss has a secret girlfriend,” said Fergus, with a weary sigh, “that’s why.”

  “Why a secret girlfriend?” pondered Jenny, mainly for her own benefit.

  “Erm, because whoever it is doesn’t want anyone finding out?” I ventured, before going on to relate our experience of the girl on our drainpipe, and how we had given chase but failed to catch her. 

  “Closeted then,” sighed Jenny, “oh dear…” she seemed to be thinking as she let the information sink in. Then, she got to her feet, saying briskly as she did so, “Right, I must be off.” She turned to me, “You will keep me up to speed on this, won’t you?” It wasn’t really a question.

  I hesitated, and she leapt on it.  “Well?”

  “It’s like spying,” I said at last, “Fliss said it was none of my business, and I’m inclined to think she’s right.”

  “She was two hours late for a photo shoot last week,” said Jenny, with a trace of exasperation, “and she’s regularly an hour or so late for band practice as well, from what Flora’s told me, so I’d say it’s become band business, wouldn’t you?”

  I nodded gloomily, “Well, when you put it like that…”

  We parted on an agreement that I would let her know anything important, but I was very uneasy in my role of spy.

  As I lay in Fergus’ arms later that night, I asked him, “Would you talk to Jenny about me, if I was Fliss?”

  There was a long silence, and then he said, “You mean, if I were you?”

  “Yes, I think so.”

  “I don’t know, I don’t think it’s that straightforward.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Well, I think you feel naturally protective of Fliss simply because she’s Fliss, and you think she would be particularly easily hurt. If it were Nat…”

  “Nat’s different,” I said firmly, “she can take care of herself.”

  “Yes, that’s what I meant.”

  There was a long silence, and then I said, “If I told you I loved you, would you be surprised?”

  “No,” he absently kissed my nose, “but I’d be very pleased.”

  I snuggled up against him, “I wonder what will happen,” I murmured drowsily.

  “Hopefully Fliss’ mystery girl will come to her senses.” He replied.

  But it wasn’t Fliss that I had meant.

Chapter Twenty Four: Young Girls, Run Free!

Having left Fliss singing in the shower that morning, it was something of a shock to arrive home from work that evening to such noisy chaos. I was feeling tired and irritable as I opened the front door, and a severely shaken ginger and white cat ran past me, almost knocking me over in the process. It was as I was still stumbling that I became aware of the shrieking; it was coming from Fliss’ room, so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I made my way up the stairs and wearily opened her bedroom door. A half naked girl squealed, pulling Fliss’ duvet across her body, and then halfway across her face; a freckled snub nose, and a pair of mischievous grey-green eyes were all that could be made out of her face, but her long brown hair was disconcertingly familiar. On the other side of the room, Meelan, clad only in one of her long, baggy t-shirts, was laughing hysterically, whilst Fliss, in her dressing gown, flicked through her clothes, an expression of absorbed determination on her face as the Supremes blared out of her hi-fi, maintaining that you ‘Can’t Hurry Love’; I decided to leave them to it.

  About half an hour later, the three of them tumbled out of Fliss’ room, along the hall, down the stairs, and out of the door. I watched from the window as they sped down the street. Meelan was on her skateboard, clad in baggy dungarees and tight t-shirt, her usually loose hair in pigtails. The young singer, Kylie, from Angel and the Razorblades, was on her bike, peddling furiously in a very short skirt of Fliss’, a customised Girl Trouble t-shirt of Flora’s that Fliss must have borrowed, and her own Doc Martens, her hair was in long bunches, which flew out behind her as she soared past. Fliss, pink in the face from running and laughing, ran to keep up, her hair flying loose behind her. She was wearing a smoky blue velour halter-top and a pair of baby blue denim hot pants that I’d never seen before. The trainers killed it, of course, as did the Bagpuss bag and pink rhinestone tiara, but they certainly made for a colourful, not to mention eccentric, spectacle as they raced down the road. I felt rather old and nostalgic as I watched them. I would have given anything to be sixteen again then.

  I overslept slightly the next morning, by about half an hour, which wasn’t a disaster, but it did mean that I had to catch a later bus to work.  Fliss walked into the kitchen at quarter to eight, still in her hot pants and halter top, and I could tell from the way that she jumped that she wasn’t expecting to see me there “Oh,” she said, startled, “I thought you’d have left for work by now.”

  “Just about to leave” I reassured her kindly as I put my mug by the sink and picked up my bag.  I could smell cigarettes, sweat, and alcohol on her as I walked past her, and there was something else too, something sweet and strong, a sticky, vanilla, floral, cloying smell of perfume, but not her own (she normally wears Wild Rose.) Her clothes and hair seemed slightly rumpled, and she looked exhausted as she sank into one of the kitchen chairs. As she wearily tucked a strand of hair behind one ear, I saw a dark smudge of lipstick on her neck, and left for work wondering who it had belonged to.

  I went to Juvenile Hell one night after work, and watched from the bar as Nat prowled the floor, organising the evening’s entertainment.  She seemed to be everywhere at once, talking to the bands, watching them sound check, conferring with the sound and lighting crews, arranging guest lists and riders.  Amber served me as I waited.  She isn’t as pretty as Fliss, I don’t think, but she is older, and is likely to be more experienced than Fliss, which I expect is what Violet wanted.  Still, I thought, if Fliss was happy, and she certainly seems to be, does it matter what Violet wants? That hadn’t been her lipstick on Fliss’ neck that was for sure.

  “Kylie isn’t gay!” laughed Nat when I mentioned the Angel and the Razorblades singer, “There’s a boy from Chorlton Year Eleven I’ve seen her with.” She slouched against the arms of an office chair by her desk.  Her office was fairly small, and the furniture was shabby, but it wasn’t an unpleasant space by any means.  She had stuck up some Girls From Mars posters, and a Titanium Rose poster, words only, cheaply xeroxed in black and white.  “As to Meelan, I have no idea – I simply don’t know her well enough to know, although I doubt she is, I can usually tell, and I’ve had no radar like feelings about her, so far.”

  “Probably innocent fun then,” I said.

  “Probably,” agreed Nat, “and best if you keep out of it anyway – Fliss’ self esteem doesn’t need any more battering.”

  I went out with Fergus a couple of nights later. He took me to an Italian restaurant near Stockport where, because it was a Tuesday, we were almost alone. I always feel very self conscious when it comes to eating out; I think it’s because of my work history as a Catering Assistant and Waitress. I see the whole experience of eating out from too much of a staff point of view I think. But it was blissful to sit in the dimly lit room, holding his hand, and just… gazing at him… loving him.

  He drove back to our flat, and we went upstairs to the kitchen. Out of deference to my reluctance to drink, we were boiling the kettle for a post-meal cup of tea when he slipped his arms around my waist and blew, very lightly, on my neck. It sent a thrill through me, and when he kissed me I felt a surge of happiness so strong and fierce it made me dizzy. My enjoyment was short lived, however, because a few moments later there was a noise from outside the open window. Startled, we paused to look outside, and it was then that we saw the figure shinning down the drainpipe. “Hey!” yelled Fergus, indignantly. The figure looked up, and I could see now that it was a girl. She had a peaked cap pulled down over her eyes, blocking my view of her face, and as she lost her grip on the pipe and fell, I saw her long dark hair stream out behind her. She landed, noisily, next to our dustbins, and ran off, limping slightly.

  I ran down the stairs, as fast as I could in bare feet, and ran out of the door. I could hear Fergus behind me as I ran down the street. I had her in my sights, but she had a head start, ran like a cat, and was evidently an experienced garden hopper judging by the ease and carelessness with which she treated such obstacles as hedges, fences, gates and, even, at one hair raising moment, traffic. I lost sight of her far too soon, and stopped, panting for breath, on the pavement as I nursed a stitch. Fergus caught up with me at last. “Who,” he panted, “the hell…”

  I shook my head, too out of breath to speak.

  We slowly made our way back to the flat.

  Having limped back upstairs, I knocked on Fliss’ door before entering. Her light was off, and she was in bed. I switched on the light, and she turned over, moaning a little as she pulled her duvet nearer to her face in the warm late September air. “Did you hear anything just now?” I asked as I plonked myself down on her bed. “I heard two people running down the stairs like a herd of stampeding wildebeest,” she muttered through the duvet, evidently awake. “And you’re sat on my leg.”

  I adjusted my position on the bed, and Fliss sat up. She rubbed her eyes, but didn’t seem to be particularly tired as she pulled the duvet up to her bare shoulders. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright, and she was wearing slightly smudged lipstick of a tea rose colour, and an expression best described as mixed. I glanced over to her wide open window, and she blushed still further as she looked away, sliding further underneath the duvet as she did so. I got up from the bed without saying another word, and limped back to the living room, and Fergus.

  He laughed when I told him of Fliss’ reaction to my questions and, after a moment or two, I did too. As I leant back into his arms and closed my eyes, I wondered what Fliss’ girl had to be afraid of.

Chapter Twenty Three: Summer In The City

The heat is rising, and just as Fliss and I would like to stand still for a while and reflect on the past few weeks, it appears that life has made other plans for us. In the midst of the chaos that July has brought, I met up with Nat and we caught up on each others lives; it was the end of my first week as a Researcher for Zimas, a small publishing company based in the backstreets of Manchester, and I had mixed feelings about my new career as an office girl. “What is it they publish again?” enquired Nat, with a frown, as she sipped her coffee.

  “Building and architecture stuff; pretty boring really,” I confessed, wryly.

  “That’s funny ‘cos one of the girls at the Flea and Firkin near work used to work for a publishers like that: She said everyone left after about six weeks cos they couldn’t take it anymore.”

  “Well,” I shrugged my shoulders in their white shirt and shifted my feet in the uncomfortable, but smart, shoes, “it’s been alright so far; pretty boring, but not horrible or anything.”

  “Must be a different firm.”

  “Hhmmm,” but she had planted a seed of doubt in my mind, one that sprouted today when I saw the rubbery-lipped deputy manager laying into one of my new colleagues. She ran through the open plan office a few minutes later, sobbing her heart out, and I caught the eye of the girl at the next desk. She quickly turned away from me as, biting her lip, she returned to her work, looking as sickened as I felt.

  Nat is lucky in that she is now in a job where she has an awful lot of freedom, and doesn’t have to observe a dress code. As such, she was wearing a skin tight pair of denim three quarter length jeans with a purple shiny halter top and battered purple and white trainers, whilst I sweltered in flesh coloured tights, black viscose skirt, white poly cotton shirt, and smart shoes; I could already feel the blisters forming on my toes.

  Fliss has a new job too, and we discussed that briefly before turning our attention to Titanium Rose and our recent meeting with Alan Mitchelman, the A&R man at Sandra Dee records. He has been the last in a long list of A&R men and women who we’ve met and, for once, we all agreed that we liked him.

  “What was he like?” asked Nat, genuinely interested.

  “Well, he was very attentive for a start – he let us do the talking, but he wasn’t vague when it came to outlining the deal they would offer us, so that made a change.” Nat grinned as I concluded, “So everyone seems to be in favour really.”

  “So it’ll happen?”

  “Looks like it.”

  Our quest to find a record label hasn’t been too long or too torturous, but we’ve met some very obnoxious people along the way, as Nat knows, having heard me on the subject on previous occasions.

  As we were picking up our bags to return to work, I asked, slyly, “How’s Adrienne?”

  She smiled as she asked, “Who told you?”

  “Fergus worked it out.”

  She smiled even more broadly as she looked away, “Ah well, it was never going to work anyway…”

  “Is that it?”

  “Yeah,” we began to walk, “that’s it. It was fun whilst it lasted, but… easy come, easy go.”

  “Well at least that way no one gets hurt,” I murmured.

  “I think it’ll always be like that for me,” she sighed.

  I looked at her in surprise, “It bothers you?”

  “Sometimes,” she admitted, “cheap sex can be a little too cheap sometimes.”

  I stopped and asked in surprise, “She was that bad?”

  “Well,” she confessed, wryly, as she looked away from me and massaged her neck with her hand “it was rather like being on a high speed express train; very full on and quick, leaving you slightly disorientated when you get off.” She winced, “Poor choice of words, but, well… that’s how she was. You can’t get attached to someone like that – they never let you get close enough to try.”

  After work I made my way to Piccadilly and caught the 192 to Levenshulme where Fliss is now working. She was due to finish her supermarket shift imminently, so I thought I would pick her up and we could walk the rest of the way home. She was parking trolleys when I arrived, and I was struck by the contrast of the green and white of her skirt and shirt against the pink doc martens, pink tights, and the pink ribbons adorning her bunches. She waved as I approached, and then went back inside for her Bagpuss bag. We compared notes on our new jobs as we walked “Well,” said Fliss brightly as we neared home, “at least the money covers our rent rise now; we ought to be O.K for money this month, as long as nothing else goes up anyway.”

  “Something always goes up,” I moaned. My shoes were killing me.

  “Then we’ll have to keep scaling up our career expectations I suppose,” said Fliss, equally glumly.

  There was a message waiting for us on our ansaphone when we got home. It was from Jenny; she wanted to arrange a band meeting to discuss the offer from Sandra Dee.

     I don’t know a lot about Sandra Dee Records, but Flora filled me in at our next band practice whilst we were waiting for Fliss to arrive.  “It’s owned by Alice Benson who used to be in The Fat Tigers.” She said, then, noticing my blank expression, she added, “Ask your mum.”  (“Ah yes, fey Scottish C86 meanderings to love lost, heavy fringes, gigged with The Pastels a lot” said mum, which didn’t really clarify things, “she was the guitarist.”)

  Flora told me that Alan had purchased both of our singles on One Way Or Another, and that Sandra Dee had a good reputation with all their bands that she’d spoken to.  Jenny also has yet to hear a bad word against them, and she knows quite a few of their employees.

  Flora looked at her watch.  “Where the hell is Fliss?” she snapped, “She’s getting really crap about time keeping just lately.”

  In fact, Fliss was a full hour and a half late when she finally did arrive, which is something of a personal record.  We heard her flip flops on the stairs first, a scampering, thwacking noise that gradually slowed to a flip-flop, flip-flop slow, steady beat as she sailed down the corridor and into the room.  It was half nine, and the sun was setting outside, bathing the clouds gold and white in the blue sky as the grey walls of the Twilight practice room grew darker.  She was distracted and seemingly unconcerned as to her lateness as she got her guitar out of its case and set about plugging it in.  I heard her half humming, half singing ‘The Look Of Love’ as she approached the microphone.  It is impossible to shout at someone in such a state, so none of us even attempted to, instead we observed, with a mixture of affection and exasperation, as she proceeded to fluff, stumble and meander her way through all the new songs that we had so carefully put together.  It was infuriating and yet somehow, sweet.

  No sooner had the three of them put down their guitars than Fliss mumbled something about having agreed to meet friends in town and not wanting to be late.  Her eyes were trained to the floor the whole time that she was speaking, and a slight blush crept over her face as she delivered her little speech.  Without looking at any of us, she left before we could argue.  Flora, Katy and I stared after her fleeing form, utterly mystified.  “Well,” began Flora at last, “at least she’s happy”

  She and Katy left shortly after Fliss, leaving me to haul my drums home alone.  I went to bed almost as soon as I arrived home, with an unpleasant expectation that I would have to get up at half six for work, which is hardly a thought to fill you with joy.  Two weeks into the job, and I’m already terrified of oversleeping.

  I was woken at six by the door being unlocked downstairs and, knowing that it was futile to go back to sleep now, I got up and made my way towards the kitchen in pursuit of coffee.  Fliss was just opening the door to the living room when I came up behind her.  She turned around, and then froze, her eyes wide, her expression one of guilt and surprise.  I could tell from her clothes that she had only just arrived home, for her hair was loose from her usual bunches, and was messy and tangled, and her black velour slip dress was creased.  She was wearing foundation and lip-gloss, and had a lot of blue eye shadow and eyeliner streaked and smudged around her eyes.  She looked absolutely exhausted.  “Did I wake you up?” she asked anxiously “I tried to be quiet.”

  “It’s O.K” I reassured her “I had to get up soon anyway, want a coffee?”

  She shook her head “No, thanks.  Think I’ll have a shower, doesn’t seem to be any point in going to bed.” She wandered off in the direction of her bedroom.

  As I ate a breakfast that I usually had neither the time nor inclination to prepare or eat, I could hear Fliss singing against the backdrop of the shower, first ‘Central Reservation’, then ‘Love Hangover’, then the chorus to ‘Erotica’ in her high, girlish voice.

Chapter Thirteen: Intrigue And Arguments

Despite Nat’s concerns, the launch of our second single, ‘Running Wild/Hathor’s Lament’ went off without a hitch.  Fergus even gave us a launch party for it, at The Gates…

  I arrived at about six p.m, having come straight from work, to find him hanging the One Way Or Another banner at the back of the stage with the aid of one of the bar staff.  I watched as the pair of them signalled to each other, stumbled and tripped over the sheet-banner’s edges, which trailed across the stage, and eventually succeeded in aligning both sides.  The sheet itself was fluorescent pink, the writing fluorescent green.

  In between unloading drums, guitars, and amps, I paused to observe the transformation of the normally dank, dark and cold Gates into something altogether more vivid, colourful, warm, welcoming and trashy.  Dew, also on the bill to perform, were to D.J, along with Liberty Belle, our quiet photographer friend who Katy had discovered could mix electro, industrial, E.B.M, punk and goth in a highly slick manner.  A One Way Or Another stall was being set up next to the turntables, which would later dispense catalogues, 7”’s, C.D’s and t-shirts with cheerful exuberance.

  By the time we had returned from our tea of chips, pizza, and stewed tea, Angel and the Razorblades, the third band on the bill, were just finishing their soundcheck.  As we got our first drinks of the evening they retired to the dressing room and emerged a few minutes later, fake fur trimmed parkas having been slung over their stage clothes.  The lurid fabric of the dresses, and fishnet tights, clashed with the everyday practicality of the coats as two pairs of stilettos and two pairs of trainers clattered up the stairs, only to return once their owners had filled up on fast food and, if they could pass for eighteen, cheap booze.

  The doors opened at half eight, and a cheering mixture of friends, relatives, and fans began to trickle down the stairs, through the doors, and into the room.

  I talked to Violet for a while about The Girls From Mars, newly returned from London A&R land.  Apparently Hardpop, the London indie, are the label they like best at the moment.  “They sent us this twenty five year old A&R woman in a Supervixon t-shirt, with a P.V.C mini skirt, fishnets, and knee high kitten heeled boots.  She was like a vision from ‘Rock’n’Roll Babes From Outer Space.’”  She enthused.

  In the darkness, Fliss nudged her, “You can’t sign to them because their A&R woman has nice legs.”

  “Oh, it wasn’t that,” said Violet, defensively, “but you wouldn’t believe how far off the mark a lot of these other record companies have been: They think we’re a bunch of actresses, models and escort girls being svengalied by Jasper, or they think we’re a lesbian heavy metal band.”  She sighed, “They can’t get their heads around the fact that we’re girls, and we play our own instruments and write our own songs, more than competently in both cases, and that we’re serious about doing this, and that we want a long career, not a one track wonder moment on some indie laydeez CD compilation.”  She paused for breath, then added, bitterly, “It’s like riot grrrl never happened.”

  The Razorblades took to the stage and began to plug in their guitars.  Yan, their guitarist, works at the Heaton’s Fryery with Fliss, and she knows Kylie, Rosa, and Kit quite well through him.  I watched as she took Violet by the hand and led her through the crowd, past a contingent of hardened first generation punks with sceptical expressions, past the Hello Kitty contingent, past the school and college kids, right to the front.  As the band tuned up, I saw Violet slip her arms around Fliss’ waist, and watched as Fliss leant back into her arms.

  Nat and Fergus both seemed to be avoiding me, I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect it’s got something to do with Fergus and his financial situation.  I did phone Fergus, incidentally, a few nights ago, but I just got his ansaphone.  I left a message, but he never called me back.  I suppose Nat is mad at me for not speaking to him and that Fergus is still mad at me for rejecting him.  What a mess.

  I did eventually manage to corner him for a brief period tonight, but I never mentioned our kiss: I wasn’t lying when I told Fliss that I wouldn’t do anything about being in love with him.  True to my word to Nat, I instead tried to ask him about the label.  Not that it came to anything.

  “When you become a feeder label for some anonymous corporation,” he slurred bitterly into his pint glass, “when all your bands are tempted by money…” he spat the word, “instead of integrity.”

  Liberty was playing Cervo Boyz as I made my inevitably loud reply, “We haven’t been!”

  “You will be,” he muttered, darkly, as he downed his pint in fast, long gulps.  He was about to lean over the bar from the vantage point of his stool, and order another drink, but I stopped him.  “What?” his bitter mutter was fast becoming an angry slur, “afraid I can’t pay for it?”

  “You shouldn’t be drinking,” I was worried for him, “not when you feel like this…”

  “What do you know about it?” he muttered as he pulled himself to his feet.  He swayed as he continued his tirade, “Un-ilike you, I have non problem holding my drink…” I watched as he stumbled off in the direction of the cigarette machine.

  Later, from the opposite side of the room, I was able to observe a curious series of exchanges between him and Nat.  Over the ear splitting strains of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, it was impossible to hear what they were screaming at each other, but I saw her gesture both to me and to herself, and her face was a mask of anger.  He appeared to be less angry, probably because he was the less sober.  He took her by the shoulders once her tirade was complete, but still angry; she shook him off her, and left.

  I followed her out onto the cold, wet street, but by the time I had reached her, she was in a taxi and on her way home.  As the car drove past me I saw her on the back seat, her head was tilted back, and she was crying.

  Violet, Fliss and I were drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream later, back at home, when Fliss happened to mention the argument that we had both observed between Nat and Fergus, “Did you notice it?” she asked us both.

  I gazed into the froth of my hot chocolate, “No,” I lied, “I didn’t see anything.”

  “Nor me,” said Violet, and I noticed, but chose not to remark on, the speed with which she changed the subject.

  Fliss took the mugs through to the kitchen, and in the minute in which she was out of the room, Violet turned to me, and said, very quietly, “You shouldn’t blame Nat for what happened.”

  I was about to ask her what she meant when Fliss returned.  She and Violet retired to her room, and I was left feeling puzzled, puzzled and vaguely uneasy.