Chapter Sixty Nine: Interlude

A couple of days after I’d been to see mum, Thomas, and Elisabeth Ann, Fergus and I went to see Angel and the Razorblades play at Retro Bar. When the gig finished we walked over to Scubar on Oxford Road for Girl Night.  Nat’s been banned from holding it at Juvenile Hell because of the infamous Valentines Day party, which seems very unfair… “It’s not what I would call a satisfactory solution,” she said, as we fought our way through the crowds to the bar, “I love Scubar, and they seem to like having me here, but it’s too small really, I need somewhere bigger.”

  “Did you try the village?” asked Fergus as we joined The Girls From Mars at their table by the bar.

  Violet snorted in disgust, “Yes, she’s tried the village, she’s tried around Piccadilly too, she’s tried everywhere; it basically comes down to politics…”

  “Vee,” murmured Nat, “keep the politics out of it; it’s incredibly tedious and boring…”

  “I don’t care,” snapped Violet, furiously, she turned back to Fergus, “The situation is basically this: The straight venues think Girl Night attracts too gay a crowd, the gay venues think it attracts too straight a crowd, and they’d all rather do something different, something that brings in more money, basically.”

  “But you always packed out Juvenile Hell…” I protested.

  Nat turned to me, “The thing is, we queer girls here,” she gestured to herself and Violet, “and our absent friends,” a reference to Fliss, “are effectively caught between a straight music scene which, particularly in Manchester, still thrives on male bravado, and a conservative, again, male dominated, gay scene, and neither scene has ever given much of a welcome to young keyed up punk girls, who don’t have a lot of money to spend, who don’t wear designer clothes, and who insist on dancing to un-commercial, un-familiar records.”

  “And Scubar does?” asked Fergus, sceptically.  The last time we had been there, we’d witnessed the tail end of a freshers week skool disco night, and had seen an overgrown schoolgirl dragging an overgrown schoolboy off behind the club by the tie, hell-bent on having her wicked way with him.

  “Scubar,” explained Nat, tersely, “is a student club and, as such, whilst not necessarily being pro queer, is used to a younger crowd, and is ostensibly equal rights.”

  She confessed that she was considering leaving Juvenile Hell in order to start her own club, “But no one has that kind of money, least of all me.  At least Ladyfest Brighton’s coming up, that’s something, and there’s always Kaffequeeria, but I’d like more.” She sighed, “I’m going to try and track down those girls who do Shake-O-Rama; I hear they’re having venue trouble too, maybe we can work together.”

  As much as I love Girl Night, Nat’s right; Scubar is too small for it.  It seemed as though you’d just start to lose yourself to a particularly great record, only to get trod on or elbowed by someone else, and you’d be distracted and have to start again.  In the shadows against the red brick walls, and amidst the pillars, I saw most of the old Girl Night regulars, including Meelan and her mates from Clinch, also Dew and Angel and the Razorblades.  Kit has started doing some Djing for Nat, along with Sabine, and some of Meelan’s mates.  “But I wish Fliss would come home,” sighed Nat, “I miss her so much…”

  “We all do.”

  “I know,” she raised a glass, “we shall never see her like again,” she drank.

  Thursday nights seem to be getting more and more like Friday nights, I thought, as we walked along Portland Street at half two.  The pavements had been furred with vomit by 8pm, and there was a dangerous atmosphere in the air as we walked; the pubs and clubs had emptied, but no one seemed to have gone home yet.  Fergus had his arm around me, and in front of us, Nat and Violet were talking quietly.  By the turning for Chorlton Street, some guy with a bottle leered from a bench and roared, “LESBIANS!”

  I heard Nat sigh as we continued walking; she took Violet’s hand as she murmured, “Do I have it tattooed on my forehead or something?”

  Violet proceeded to check, “No,” she said, neutrally, “nor are you wearing a necklace that says ‘Queer As Fuck’ I notice.”

  Somewhere behind us, the guy was still shouting, and people were gazing in our direction, curiously, and in a not entirely friendly way, as Nat said, “Do you think I should?” in anxious tones, “I could shave my head as well.”

  “No,” said Violet, decisively.

  Fergus didn’t find it remotely funny, however, he turned and started to make his way back the way we’d come, until I tugged on his arm, “Don’t,” I murmured, “he’s drunk, it won’t do any good.”

  Violet and Nat, who’d also stopped, nodded in unison, “She’s right, it won’t do any good.”

  Just then, I heard a voice somewhere behind us, “Did you just call us lesbians?” I turned in surprise.  A group of about six twenty something women had gathered around the bloke on the bench.  He stuttered some kind of a response, but it was too late, even as we moved away, they were closing in for the kill.

  Violet sniggered; Nat was content to merely smirk.

 “Aren’t you angry?” demanded Fergus as we waited for taxi’s.

  Violet and Nat shrugged, and Nat said, sardonically, “Que sera sera…”

  “Lairy drunken men are lairy drunken men,” said Violet, philosophically, “and besides, you get the odd good reaction sometimes, and plenty of no reaction at all…” 

  Fergus shook his head sadly.

  “Cheer up, Fergus,” said Nat, with almost forced cheerfulness, “we respect you as a man who will never ask if he can come home with us and watch.”

  He smiled a little, “Ha ha.”

  We got the first taxi, and they waved us off cheerfully, still holding hands, still smiling.

  When we arrived home, there was an ansaphone message from Fliss, “Bonjour mes amis,” it began, “nous retournons en Angleterre…”

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.