Chapter Forty Two: Armistice Day

Fliss, resplendent in pink fishnets, black stilettos, black ra ra skirt and pink Blondie t-shirt, tottered and skittered her way across the living room in hot pursuit of her much prized ‘Leader Of The Pack’ 7”.  In the excitement of picking out records, the Shangri-La’s classic had been dropped, causing it to roll across our still uncarpeted floor at a rate of knots.  As the disc wobbled, and then dropped to the floor, Fliss pounced, scooped it up, and placed it carefully back into its battered sleeve.  Having recovered herself, she then clambered awkwardly to her feet and shuffled and tottered her way back across the room to the hi-fi, and her record collection.

  Nat, inspired by Ladyfest Manchester, the four-day celebration of all things lady-made and pro-feminist, had launched a monthly ‘Girl Night’ of music and dancing at Juvenile Hell.  She had borrowed some of the more locally based Ladyfest DJ’s and performers for the nights October launch, but was now searching for more regular DJ’s, which was where Fliss came in.

  Her fidgety exuberance was of stark contrast to my own tiredness.  I slouched on the sofa, feeling headachy and irritable as I watched her.  My eyes felt sore, and the lids felt heavy and had taken to flickering every now and then, in a way that was beyond my control.  I had to stretch my eyes wide in order to feel awake, and it was all too much effort really.  I closed my eyes and half dozed for several minutes.

  The Chiffons ‘Sweet Talking Guy’ was playing as I opened my eyes later, and Fliss was prancing and sashaying her way across the floor as she packed her records into cases ready for the night ahead.  The troublesome stilettos lay abandoned by the hi-fi, one of the heels was off, and Fliss was wearing her old size 3 pink and white trainers as she danced.  Her gold hair flew out at all angles, gently flicking back and forth across her face as the tiers of her ra ra moved from side to side in sympathy.  I smiled as I got wearily to my feet.  Fliss held out a hand to me, and we proceeded to twirl each other enthusiastically, if not entirely skilfully, across the floor.

  Towards the end of the record, Fergus arrived and our self-consciousness returned.  I retired to the sofa, and Fliss quickly finished packing her records and departed.

  He kissed me hello, and told me I looked tired.  I leant back into his arms, and closed my eyes.  He massaged my forehead with careful fingers as he said, “That’s the most relaxed I’ve seen you in weeks.”

  “Hhmmm… what?” I asked, drowsily.

  “Dancing with Fliss”

  “It was just fun.”

  “Fun,” he echoed, blankly.

  “Yes, fun,” alarm bells were ringing as I opened my eyes and sat up.  In turning to face him, I saw the doubt on his face “Oh my God!” I exclaimed in amazement, “You actually thought there was more to it than that?”

  “It’s possible!” he snapped defensively.

  “Don’t start this…” I felt too tired to fight.

  “Well, what am I supposed to think?”

  “About me dancing with Fliss? Nothing!”

  “About us!”

  I didn’t have an answer for him.

  “Well?” he demanded.

  “Fliss is my friend…” I began, pensively.

  “And I’m not?” He grabbed my wrist as I made to get up, “And I’m not?”

  I jerked free, “No,” I muttered savagely, “Not when you’re like this.”  I hurried through Fliss’ maze of rejected vinyl, CD’s, stray clothes, notepads and pens towards the doorway.  I was about halfway when, with a slight click, all the lights went out.  I was unsure of my footing, so I froze.

  “Maggie?” I heard him call in the blackness.

  “I’m fine,” I heard his footsteps coming towards me, “Careful,” I cautioned, “don’t trip over any records.”

  His hand was on my hip.  I heard a rustle as he reached into his pocket, then there was a series of clicks, and his cigarette lighter produced a tiny, intensely bright, yellow flame between us.  His face was now illuminated in the darkness, and his expression was grimly resigned as he took hold of my hand.  “Come on,” he said quietly, “Let’s go and find some candles.”  There was at least one in my room, I knew for sure, plus my lighter, so that seemed to be as good a place as any to start.

  When the candles were lit, we arranged them throughout the room, and settled down on my bed.  The candlelight threw shadows against the walls in the flickering light.  He held me in his arms and blew gently on my neck.  I closed my eyes once more.  “Are you tired?” he murmured.

  “Yes,” I replied drowsily, “I still can’t sleep.”


  “I don’t know.  I don’t get the nightmares anymore, but…” I sensed him start to kiss my neck, “Fergus…”

  He paused, “Shhh…” now he was touching my breasts.

  I said nothing, and he continued to work his way down my body.  It could have been so easy to let him do it, to just lie back and think of something else, too tired to resist, but… when he touched me… there, I remembered… It was no specific incident that I remembered, no clear memory, just a feeling, and a series of emotions: Fear, turning into panic, and anger.

  He must have sensed it, for he stopped, and let me go.  “I’m sorry,” I whispered in the dark silence.  I reached out to him, but he wouldn’t let me touch him.  He moved away from me, and sat in angry, uptight silence at the opposite end of the bed, “You know I can’t.”

  “Sometimes,” I could hear the strain in his voice, “I think you just don’t want to, or that you don’t care.”  His eyes shone angrily in the candlelight as he said, “How can you be so cold?”

  It hurt, but I couldn’t blame him for saying it.  “I don’t choose to be,” I murmured, my voice unsteady and unsure, “it’s how I am.  You always knew that, it never used to bother you like it does now.”

  I sensed his exasperation as he said, “I thought you would change, as you got to know me, got to trust me…”

  “I have…” but I knew that I hadn’t changed enough for him.  “I love you, more than I’ve ever loved anyone.  Why isn’t that enough for you?”

  He moved along the bed towards me.  As he held me, he said, “Usually it is.”  He kissed me, softly and lingeringly, and we lay down together.

  The power had come back on by the time Fliss arrived home.  We had seen the street lights come back on, but had stayed still on my bed, the candles flickering and guttering around us.  I rested my head on his chest, and tried not to cry when he stroked my hair.

  Fliss ran into the room, exclaiming, “You’ll never guess what just happened…” she stopped dead, sensing somehow that she might be intruding.  We persuaded her to stay, but she still seemed uncomfortable as she perched, gingerly, on the edge of the bed, her eyes wide and wondering, as she blurted, “Nat’s left Dylan!”

    Apparently, Fliss was packing up her records when Dylan came storming up the stairs from the office downstairs, the expression on his face murderous.  The club was more or less empty, but for Fliss and the Juvenile Hell staff, all of who were in the process of clearing up.  Nat came running up the stairs as all and sundry were observing Dylan, and she looked, according to Fliss, “a total state,” her hair was messy, and her shirt was half on, half off.  She and Dylan started screaming at each other, “I didn’t take much of it in,” confessed Fliss, “but it was mostly rude, and he kept saying, ‘How could you? How could you?’  Then Amber appeared, she’d come up not long after Nat I think, but I hadn’t noticed, and she looked all mussed up and harassed as well, and a bit worried, so, I kind of got the gist of the situation around then.”

  “Nat and Amber?” asked Fergus, his tone bordering on disbelief.

  “Yes,” said Fliss, the distaste creeping into her voice, “isn’t it bizarre?”

  “So what happened next?” I urged.

  “Well,” said Fliss awkwardly, “Amber just sort of stood there, like a lump, a little away from them, looking a bit sheepish and unsure as to what to do or say, they were still screaming at each other at this point you see, then Dylan gave Nat an ultimatum.  He told her that, if she left with him then, and if she promised to give Amber up, he’d forget what he’d just seen.”

  But Dylan’s ultimatums and cajoling had come to nothing: Nat refused point blank.

  “She moved over to where Amber was standing, and she said ‘No’.  He pleaded with her, but she wouldn’t budge, so in the end he left.  He looked utterly destroyed, and I felt very sorry for him.”

  So did I, I realised.  But I couldn’t dwell on it, not then.

  “What about Nat?” we both asked.

  “Well, she looked a bit shaken,” admitted Fliss, “but she seemed quite calm really, she turned to Amber, and said, ‘Come on’, and then they went back downstairs, got their things, and left.  Amber looked as sick as a dog, and I still didn’t get paid.”

  Later, when Fliss had gone to bed and we were lying, quiet and still, in each other’s arms, he asked, “Do you think Nat loved Dylan?”

  I thought about it, “Yes,” I said at last.

  “Not anymore,” he sighed.

  “So it would seem.”

  There was a long pause, and one of the guttering candles went out altogether before he spoke again, “Do you think he knew, about her girlfriends?”

  “I don’t know,” I confessed.

  “I bet she never told him,” he said, a little smugly, “and I bet he never asked.”

  His tone was beginning to irritate me, “Does it matter?” I snapped.

  I sensed his sigh on the back of my neck, “Little defensive, aren’t we?”

  “Nat’s my friend,” I snapped, “I don’t like it when you talk about her like that.”

  “She shouldn’t have married a man she doesn’t love”

  “But its O.K to sleep with one is it?” I demanded.

  “Why does that bother you so much?” he sat up and glared at me as I turned to face him, “Just because she gave me the one thing you never could!”

  I felt as though he had stabbed me.

  “That’s it, isn’t it?” he cried triumphantly.

  I slapped him.  There were tears in my eyes as I said, “Why do you keep hurting me like this? Why are you always saying things, and pressuring me, and…” I burst into tears.

  After what felt like a long time, he took hold of me and tried to calm me down. It was like he was trying to soothe a fractious child, and, as such, I refused to be soothed.  “You worry me when you’re like this,” he murmured, “I never know what’s going to happen with you lately, you scare me sometimes…”

  “Don’t patronise me!” fury combined with my tears, and I felt very, very tired.

  “I’m not…” he seemed hurt, “Tell me what’s wrong,” he brushed my hair out my eyes with his fingers, “talk to me, please…”

  I pulled away from him, “Nothing’s wrong, I’m just tired…”

  “No,” his expression was one of concern, “no, this is more than just being tired, this is something else…”

  “No it’s not! I’m fine! Nothing is wrong! I’m fine!”

  “You’re not fine,” he murmured, “you’re very far from fine…” He stood up, and then turned to face me once more, “I don’t know what you need anymore,” he admitted at last, and I could tell that he was worried, “But I don’t think it’s me.  If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

  As the front door slammed shut behind him, I seemed to step outside myself.  I saw myself walk through to the kitchen and open the cutlery drawer.  I picked up the stiletto knife and held it out in front of me, it glinted in the moonlight, and I knew as I stood there that the barrier was gone.  I stretched out my left arm and tensed it against the cold steel blade as I drew the knife across my arm once, twice, three, four times.  And it felt better.

  I put the knife down, washed it, dried it, and put it back in the drawer.  I was no longer watching myself, no longer crying, and I felt calmer, freer than I had for weeks.  I glanced at my arm.  The cuts weren’t deep, and they would soon heal, but I would have to be careful now.  No short sleeves, not until the scars had faded.  I changed into a long sleeved nightshirt, and went to bed.

  But I slept no better that week than I had in the weeks before, or since.  My mind was overactive, it wouldn’t switch off, and my thoughts, my worries, my fears, wouldn’t leave me alone.

  I drink coffee these days; it keeps me awake whilst simultaneously shredding my nerves and accelerating my heartbeat.  I won’t write about Fergus, although I know that he’s left me for good.  I won’t lie to myself about that.  He’s probably off sowing his wild and much stored oats as I write.  I won’t think about that.  I try not to imagine him with other girls, but sometimes at night… I see them in my mind, and I cut myself to stop the pain.

  A few days ago, Fliss and I went to Juvenile Hell.  Against the backdrop of red and gold glitter, of bright young things, of alcohol and cigarette smoke, I observed Amber and Nat together.  Nat looked twice as beautiful, twice as sexy as usual.  She was wearing black stretch satin, very low cut, and was positively glowing with happiness.  She was the more affectionate of the two, I noticed, the first to take her hand, to throw an intimate glance her way.  She stroked her fingers when she took a drink from her hand, she danced for her… and Amber knew it.

  Fine boned Amber, in her tight jeans and tight t-shirt, watched her through washed out grey eyes that shone with lust.  She flicked her long bleach blonde hair behind her equally pale shoulders constantly, and the next time Nat took her hand, she let go with a coldness that mirrored her exterior.

  The Juvenile Hell staff seemed shell-shocked, although some of them must surely have seen what was going on before that night: I know that, deep down, I’d had an inkling. Part of me wondered how much Dylan had suspected before he went storming in, and part of me wondered how he was feeling now that it was all over.  I’d liked him, the few times I’d met him, and I don’t like seeing people get hurt.

  Later on, Amber’s coldness seemed to melt away, and she started to return the affection that had been thrown her way all night.  Fliss and I, two single women in a club that seemed to be full of couples, watched with a combination of envy and melancholy as Amber and Nat enjoyed a particularly passionate and prolonged snog. “Time we went home,” sighed Fliss “before I throw myself at a perfectly innocent stranger and make a terrible, terrible mistake.”

  I smiled sadly, “You’re right, let’s go home.”

  We lonely girls must stick together.


Chapter Forty: Body Pictures

I felt happy and light as I skipped down the steps, and I broke into a run as I hit the warm tarmac.  The exercises I’d been doing at home had really started to pay off; I lasted longer than Katy at kickboxing, and was sure that I would keep up at aerobics the next day.  It would be my first lesson, but I was feeling confident about it.  I felt almost euphorically happy.  The sounds and scenes of Victoria flew by in a blissful, sunny blur as my trainer-clad feet pounded the roads and pavements, and I beamed.  I felt so alive, so up…

  It was about half six by the time I reached Juvenile Hell.  Nat was outside on the warm pavement, opening up.  As she turned around to face me, I took in her red eyes and pale face.  She was chewing her lip as she tried to prevent fresh tears from falling.  I pretended not to notice.  “Hello,” she said quietly, her expression was mixed as she commented, “Interesting look… sort of grungy ‘Flashdance’, I don’t think I’ve ever seen denim leggings with a lacy slip and legwarmers before.”  She raised her eyebrows as I giggled, a few heads turned across the street, and her expression became faintly nervous as she said, “Come in, help me set up.”

  The evening sun picked out the gold glitter on the walls inside as I slid ten one pound coins into the jukebox and ran through the selections, picking out all the old Madonna records and cheesy eighties records.  Nat bustled about, getting ready for the show at ten as I danced.  Amber was the only other person around, and she ignored me as well.  When I had run out of records, Nat took hold of my arm and steered me over to the bar.  The light from outside was fading a little as she sat me down in front of a big, cold glass of lemonade.  “Drink,” she commanded in steel edged tones.

  I obeyed.

  As I drank, I saw Amber pass a glass of Bailey’s to Nat, and as she reached out to take it, I saw her fingers close around Amber’s.  A second later, she let go, but I hadn’t missed the look in her eyes when she did so.  Amber met it with her own bland, open expression, which seemed to say nothing but, if you knew what to look for, said everything.  I found myself recalling the week before, when Nat and I had gone to the Filmworks to see ‘Party Monster’.  It had meant breaking my promise to Fergus and, in retaliation; he had gone for a boozy night out with his mates the next night, knowing that I was ready to stay in.

  “You wouldn’t want him to stay every night,” said Nat, bitterly, as we drank our drinks.  Her face bore a sour expression as she added, “It’s one thing dating them, it’s quite another thing living with them and waking up to them wandering around in their underpants every morning.”

  I rolled my eyes impatiently, “I do know that”

  She shrugged, “Well then.”

  We lapsed into an unhappy silence.

  We met up nearly a week after that night, on a wall by John Rylands University Library on Oxford Road.  The last rays of sunlight were disappearing in a pinkish haze as I joined her, and we gazed up at the red brick of the Humanities department where, if the light was right, you could still read the faded message ‘FIGHT AIDS, ACT UP!’ Nat was eating salad from 8th Day, she offered me some as I sat down, but I shook my head.  “Did you get the stuff?” she asked.

  I nodded, and then reached into my bag, drawing out two spray cans and several marker pens.  The bag was light cotton, black with fluorescent coloured squiggles; it had been my school bag when I was six.  She grinned as she got to her feet, smoothing down the too small, too tight t-shirt, a transfer design, advertising The Period Pains ‘Spice Girls (Who Do You Think You Are?)’.  Her jeans were baggy, and had been tie dyed green over the original light blue, they were being held up by a black leather studded belt.  She was wearing a safety pin bracelet, the kind Flora sells in her shop, and had written ‘Boy’ on her right hand set of knuckles and ‘Girl’ on the left in eyeliner.  I was wearing an equally tight Bis t-shirt, with a khaki a-line cotton mini skirt and leather studded wristbands. Nat had, at my insistence, scrawled the phrase ‘Prick Tease’ across the flat of my stomach.

  As we walked along Oxford Road towards Piccadilly, a few cars honked their horns, and assorted men leered out of car windows and made lewd or incomprehensible suggestions to us.  “Maybe we should have gone for boiler suits,” reflected Nat as we selected our first target, a bus stop advert outside the BBC.  This particular advert was a deodorant advert, featuring a man with sweat stains and a dog… you know the one.  After a few moments thought, Nat scrawled THE LYNX EFFECT: No amount of deodorant will get you a shag.  I couldn’t think of anything so I just wrote I feel sorry for the dog.  The toilets in McDonalds on the corner had already been covered in an earnest, and extremely thorough, critique of their food and business practices, so we moved along to Portland Street, where a well known sports drink and advert for the ‘Mail On Sunday’ (Hate and fear, seven days a week) received our clumsy attentions.  Ladyfest Manchester took place last weekend in Hulme, and one of the highlights of the weekend, for a lot of people, was a short, subtitled, Belgium film, ‘What Shall We Do Tonight?’ which showcased the graffiti and billboard sabotage activities of a group of young Belgium women.  It had cheered us up no end.

  “As much as I admire the sentiments, music, and activities of the riot grrrls,” Nat said as we walked down Oldham Street, “I’m always aware that I was a few years too late for it…” I nodded sympathetically.  There was a long, thoughtful silence, before she asked, “Are we feminists, do you think?”

  I shrugged, “I dunno, maybe… don’t you have to have read an approved booklist or something?”

  We sat down on the kerb opposite The Twilight and thought about this.  “I wonder if the riot grrrls were considered ‘proper’ feminists,” wondered Nat.

  I shook my head, “Probably not.”

  There was restlessness in us that night, and it kept us moving, kept us roaming the city streets.  At 3am we were sat on the steps outside Manchester Library, talking… neither of us ready or willing to go home.  “We ought to have more nights like this,” I smiled, “it’s been fun… we always used to have fun, when we went out…”

  “When we were young” sighed Nat. She flexed her fingers as though testing invisible restraints, and gazed at her wedding ring before forming her hands into loose fists.

  “When did it change, Nat?” I asked, quietly, my voice shook a little as I spoke, and shadows settled on the street in the pale moonlight.

  “I don’t know,” she murmured as she played, moodily, with the ring, “after school maybe… men… girls…” She smiled as she ceased her fidgeting.

  “Everything got spoiled when you went away, when I met Terry… it wasn’t the same after that.”

 She sighed, placed her palms down on the cold grey stone behind her, and shook back her hair, “We grew up; that’s all… we can still be close, we still are close…”

  “It’s not the same,” I muttered, and if she saw the tears in my eyes, she didn’t say anything.

  The next night was the night we went to the tattoo parlour.  It wasn’t the parlour we had originally used when we were eighteen, when we got our first tattoos (Nat’s eagle and my dragon) done.  That had been the White Dragon in Stockport, a parlour on Hillgate that had a clear sheet of glass between the walls of designs and the room where the tattooist worked.  It sold rainbow coloured cigarette papers, pipes, tobacco tins, bongs… everything you would need to smoke hash, but without the hash.  This time we went to a Manchester parlour, high up on Oldham Street, way above street level.  The rooms were spacious and minimalist, split level and sombre with black walls and thick white carpets.  A young Morticia handed us books of designs to look through as the early evening sun shone through the large windows.

  Nat was, partly at least, getting a tat done to annoy Dylan, who, despite “having more tattoos than David Beckham,” doesn’t “approve” of tattoos on women.  His least favourite tattooed body part on a woman is, apparently, the outer ankle, or ankles generally; he thinks it’s “slutty.”  “I’m going to get some kind of floral type bracelet thing done, I think,” mused Nat thoughtfully as she slowly explored books of designs, “Maybe more leafy than floral though, I don’t want anything twee…” she looked up, “How about you?”

  But I already knew what I wanted.

  When I showed it to her, her eyebrows shot right up, and she coughed nervously, “Are you sure?”

  I nodded, “Positive.”

  “But… don’t you think you should maybe think about it first? I mean, you are going to be stuck with it for life…”

  Surprisingly, the tattooist, who was a young, pale woman with long fair hair, a faceful of piercings, and a galaxy of multi coloured stars across her shoulders, agreed with her.  “I think it’s beautiful,” she said, in a voice that was both educated and velvety smooth, “but it’s very big, it’ll take me a long time to do, and the lower back can be quite a painful area to have done…”

  “I have got a tattoo,” I snapped, “I know it takes time, I know it hurts…”

  “When I have someone who wants something this big doing, I always ask them to walk away from it today, and come back,” she continued, calmly, “If you really want it doing, think about it some more, and come back, then I’ll do it.”

  She turned her attention back to Nat then, who had decided what she was having, and I sat down to watch in sulky silence, stubbornly resolved to have my own choice of work done, no matter what it took.

  A circle of ivy, red roses, and holly was circling Nat’s right ankle when we left, and I gazed at it resentfully.  It didn’t seem right that Nat should be allowed her choice, yet I was being deprived of mine, I’ll show them, I thought resentfully, grimly determined.  But it was more than that, I know now, I have a depth of insight about our motives now that I didn’t have that night.  Our original tats were done after Nat arrived back from London, and after I’d left Terry, and we were both in a bad place, emotionally, at that time, and… No, not the past… not the past… I can’t go there yet, not yet.  Whenever I close my eyes, he’s there, whenever I got to sleep, I remember… I don’t want to go there, but I can’t stay here either… this place I’m in right now is frightening too, and I can’t face it yet, I need to go somewhere else first, I need to work up to it.  There’s too much space in this narrative, too many gaps… I need to fill some of them in as best I can.  Where to start? With another night, and another adventure.

I was angry that night as we walked along Oldham Street, away from the bright lights and glitter of Juvenile Hell.  I was wearing my black P.V.C jacket over a super short black lycra mini skirt, and a light, black cotton backless top was being held in place by two thin strips of cotton that fastened, loosely, at the base of my spine.  The flesh between the P.V.C and the cotton was inflamed and a little sore as I strode along the street towards Piccadilly, muttering to myself in agitation and anger.

  Nat, clad in plain dark blue jeans and a shimmery, slinky top, made of smoky blue satiny velour and filmy gold chiffon, struggled to keep pace with me as I strode through the buzz, hum and lurid colours of Piccadilly, towards Portland Street and Oxford Road.  As I made to cross the road by the bus station, she took hold of my arm, and gently pulled me back onto the pavement.  Furious, I turned on her, “I’m going there!” I shouted, angrily, over the traffic, “And you’re coming as well!” my voice became an angry mutter, “…going to the ballet school, and I’ll dance for them, and they’ll be so impressed that they’ll give me my place back, and I’ll learn, I’ll learn from them, and…”

  Her expression was one of deep puzzlement as she asked, “What are you on about?”

  I started to mutter again, something about Katy, and the argument we’d had, about how she doubts me, and how she doubts my commitment to the band.  Then I moved onto Fergus, and how he doesn’t trust me, or thinks I don’t trust him, I found myself saying things I have never said, and should never say, aloud.  “Maybe I am frigid,” I muttered as we walked, her arm linked with mine, “maybe I’m really, really fucked up… I never enjoyed sex, even when I could face it, but I just can’t face it anymore, I get so scared, whenever he touches me now, whenever I know, whenever I can sense him wanting sex, wanting more than I’m willing to give…” It was only when Nat made me sit down on the wall that I realised where we were, “This isn’t the Northern Ballet School!” I exclaimed in surprise.

  “No,” she agreed, “It’s not. Now,” her voice was calm, “start at the beginning, and tell me everything.”

  So I told her about my row with Katy, and about the situation with Fergus.  We talked, quite frankly, about sex, and I began to feel a little calmer, a little bit reassured.  “Is it different,” I ventured, timidly, “with girls?” I paused, feeling a little shy and awkward.  “I mean,” I could feel myself blushing, “do they hurt you as much, are they as violent…”

  In the darkness, she smiled a bitter, wry little smile to herself, as she said, “Hhmm, yes… ‘Fraid so, girls can be just as nasty as boys, in every way that boys can.  He can hit you and break you, and so can she…”

  I shook my head vigorously, as though trying to clear the incessant chatter of words and images from my mind, my eyes were suddenly full of tears as I asked, “Then what’s the point?”

  Nat shrugged, her expression was one of sadness as she said “I suppose we all go on hoping… We hope we’ve got it right this time.”

  There was a long, thick, awkward silence, stifling with pain, melancholy, and regret, “I have got it right this time.”  I felt very definite and determined as I said it, and I still feel like that now; I have got it right this time, I know I have.

  Nat sighed, wearily, in the darkness; she yawned a little and rubbed her tired eyes, as she said, carelessly, “So let him fuck you then, you’ll have to at some point in any case.”

  I got up from the wall and took a few steps forward, my mind, so full of words and images became vague and foggy as I moved towards the light.  Somewhere in the distance, very far away, I heard Nat’s voice, saying, uncertainly, “What… what are you doing?” The tarmac of the near empty car park was lit up like a Christmas tree, with all its security lights, and the glow reminded me of a warm and waiting stage as I stepped out into the light.  The music was swelling, loudly, in my head as I took up position and… and then… and then… and then… I really don’t know what happened.

When I came to, I was naked in the darkness, and I was in bed.  I could tell from the darkness that it was night time still, but which night? And what time? Fear wrapped itself around my heart as I began to wonder how long I had been away for.  Somewhere in the distance, I could hear Nat arguing with Fergus, she was shouting, almost screaming, at him, the emotion pouring into her voice as she yelled, “DON’T YOU DARE BLAME ME! I HAVE KNOWN HER, AND LOVED HER, FOR A LOT LONGER THAN YOU HAVE, AND I’M TELLING YOU, THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG…” She seemed to run out of volume, for the next time she spoke, her voice was calmer, almost pleading, as she said, “I’ve seen her like this before, and…” I closed my eyes, and drifted out.

Daylight was shining into my eyes as I blinked anxiously, and as I rolled over, I realised that I was still lying in bed.  Next to me, Fergus stirred and sighed a little as he opened his eyes, and the fact that I was naked suddenly seemed problematic.  Anxiety was racing through me like a drug as I quavered “Whwhat happened?”

  As he turned to face me, I saw that he was frowning, “You don’t remember?”

  Panic squeezed my throat as I said, “No, tell me.”

  “You fainted,” he told me, patient and quiet as he held me, “that’s all”  But he wouldn’t meet my eyes, and I sensed that something more than that had happened; something worse.  My heart began to beat faster, and I found it difficult to breathe.  “Shhh…” he whispered soothingly, “it’s alright, it’s alright… calm down now, it doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter…” he ran his hands, slowly and warily, down the garish, inflamed skin on my back.  As I began to calm down, he continued in that same quiet, soothing whisper, “You were dancing in the car park, and… I saw you, but I didn’t know what was going on at first.  I was so high up, and you looked so small, and you were moving so fast, you were like a moth in the light, flitting about, it was only when your hair caught the light that I knew it was you.”  I heard the pain in his voice as he continued, “I saw the tattoo when we got you home, Nat tried to tell me that she tried to talk you out of getting it done, but I wouldn’t listen to her, and Fliss told me that most of the rent money’s missing…” He cleared his throat awkwardly, before continuing in a very different tone, “I never knew that you could dance like that,” his hands gently stroked my hair “it was the most eerie, beautiful, eerily beautiful thing I ever saw.”  His tone lost its wonder and grew concerned as he said, “Maybe you hit your head, maybe that’s why you don’t remember, does your head hurt?”

  “No,” I whispered.

  He ran his fingers across my scalp, carefully and sensitively, “There’s no lump there.”  He said at last.

  “Then I can’t have hit it then.”

  He ran his hand along my shoulder, and then down my arm, “Do you understand what happened, if you can’t remember?” He murmured.

  I shook my head, and I sensed my heartbeat increase once again as I tried not to think about it.

  “Because when you came round, even when I got you home, you seemed to be looking at me without seeing.  It was like you weren’t there anymore, like you’d gone somewhere else.”

  “Lights were on but no one was home?”  My voice shook as I spoke.

  “Yes,” he frowned, “It’s happened before?”

  I nodded, and then closed my eyes and buried my face in his chest.  The rent money… I had forgotten about that.  It had been a big piece to do, and tattoos cost a lot of money… he told me later that Nat had given Fliss some money, and that he and Fliss had, somehow, found the rest.  They all know that I haven’t got any money.  I think it was at that moment that I realised the true nature of my behaviour of late, and the fear and sadness hit me like an avalanche of water. I tried to stand tall against the torrent, against the flood, but it overwhelmed me almost at once.  “All I want to be is a normal girl, with a normal life,” I said when I re-surfaced, “that’s all I want to be to you.”  He kissed my lightly on the forehead as I closed my eyes again, and I fell into a darkness that was something like sleep.