Chapter Seventy: Point Of Departure

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

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

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

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

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

  Everyone laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  “Do you know her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  I smiled.

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

  “Well,” said Fergus, awkwardly.

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

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

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

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Chapter Sixty 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 Fifty Two: The Exile Returns

Time has been running away with me these last few weeks.  I had become accustomed to the way that the summer-autumn days dragged greyly by, one after another, repetitively and meaninglessly, and had given little thought or care for the future, yet all that has changed now: The future has caught up with me.

  I think that I first became aware of it the morning after I saw Fergus and his girlfriend at the restaurant.  No sooner did I stop crying, it seems, than I was back at The Twilight, rehearsing songs with Titanium Rose, and concentrating so hard on them that I barely noticed the days passing as they lead, inevitably, to tonight, and to the dense, smoky, grimy familiar gloom of The Gates.

  The enormity of the task ahead seemed to dawn on me as I waited at the side of the stage with Fliss, Flora and Katy, and I went weak at the knees.  None of us spoke as the heavy bass of Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’ faded and was replaced by the less insistent thud of Bananarama’s ‘Cruel Summer.’ (Fliss’ choice)  I took a few tentative steps away from the warm, close darkness of what is laughingly referred to as the “backstage area,” and warily stepped out into the light.

  I could hear Flora, a few steps behind me, as I skirted around the edge of the stage towards my drums, and as I moved, a light as white and bright as titanium in the flame seared my eyes, so that I stopped moving and, blinded, turned towards the crowd.  As my eyes adjusted to the light, I began to notice the noise for the first time.  They were cheering, and whistling, and screaming… wildly and shrilly, so that no one voice was distinct, it was all one sound, one incredible, loud, sound.  When I looked around the stage, I saw that Fliss had yet to make her entrance, and I turned back to the crowd feeling puzzled.  “YOU!” mouthed Flora, from across the stage, “THEY’RE CHEERING FOR YOU!”  My heart began to beat a little faster, and I blushed, partly from embarrassment, partly from confusion.  I was shocked, but also very touched by the fuss that they were making, for I’d never really thought of my role within the band as being anything other than a support role.  Even so, it appears that, over the years, people have noticed me, and that, despite everything, they seem to quite like me, which is all rather puzzling really… why would they like me? Why would they think anything of me at all?  Eventually, the light drifted off me as Fliss and Katy came into view, and I walked over to my drums and sat down, my heart thudding in my chest as I picked up my sticks.

  When I began our first song, ‘Your Face’, a fast, hectic, punk pop anthem-to-be, I felt the old adrenalin surge through me.  I felt more alert than I had done for months, more alive, and… happy, and I knew that it wasn’t the drugs, that it was real happiness. When I looked up at the crowd a few minutes later, my heart began to pound again, but with joy this time; Mum was there, as was Nat. The Girls From Mars had also come, and most of them were stood next to Shahina, our promoter, who in turn was surrounded by various members of Angel and the Razorblades and Dew.

  It was with mixed feelings that I spotted Fergus. He was with a woman, I couldn’t help but notice, but she appeared to be younger than the one that I had seen him with at work that night.  This one was petite in build, with short, dark hair.  She must have sensed that I was watching her for she suddenly jerked her head as though alerted to something, and our eyes met, and locked, for a few moments.  I looked away with mixed feelings.

  The rest of the set went well, and towards the end of ‘Be My Girl’, I noticed a young, mousy, scruffy looking girl in the sound booth swap places with an equally young, but altogether more sophisticated seeming, dark haired girl.  I couldn’t recall having seen either of them before, so they must have come with Shahina when she became the new promoter.

  I forced myself to join the crowd once our set was finished, and was immediately pounced on by Nat, along with The Girls From Mars, all of whom were very kind.  I grew embarrassed all over again as they praised our set, and my playing, and it was a relief when they changed topics.  The heavy smoke filled air turned blue as Moyra and Violet began to regale us with stories of their U.S and European tours, and Violet confirmed for us the established underground rumour that she’d been sleeping with Shanti Nair, guitarist in the Girls From Mars’ support band, The Flirts.

  Nat smirked, sleepily, upon discovering this.  Her eyes were half closed, like a cat, as she dragged, smugly, on her cigarette. 

  “Anyway,” said Violet, liltingly, as she focused her attention on Nat, “I’ve been hearing some pretty choice gossip about you lately,”

  “Which bit would that be?” enquired Nat, sweetly.

  “About you being shacked up with Amber.”

  I saw Nat tense, and could only presume that Violet hadn’t heard the full story.  I blushed as I remembered exactly what the full story was… “I need to go and change,” I murmured, quickly excusing myself.

  It was as I was hopping about in one of the grimy, vomit stained toilet cubicles a few minutes later, changing out of my damp and stained stage clothes, that I realised how drunk Nat was.  There was a loud crash, followed by a stream of mangled guitar notes, which ebbed again as the door to the toilets slammed shut once more.  “You couldn’t have loved him, lovely,” soothed Violet, “not if Amber got you into bed so quickly afterwards.”

  I heard sobbing: the noisy, histrionic, slightly hysterical sobbing that comes when emotions, or alcohol, overtake everyday restraints.

  “I knew you were sexually attracted,” continued Violet, earnestly, “but it wasn’t any reason to marry him.”

  “He was my Fabrice!” wailed Nat, her voice wobbling, “I honestly thought that, but then he wasn’t… he was Anthony Kroesig all over again.”

  Violet seemed to sigh, heavily, “Then Amber came along and you mistook her for Christian Talbot?”

  If Nat issued any kind of reply to this cryptic remark, I missed it as I hurried to pull on my boots.

  “Nat,” Violet’s tone was wearily kind, albeit a little exasperated, “You are not Linda Radlett!”

  They had left by the time I emerged, and as the door closed behind me, I was able to make out Fliss, striding across the beer stained black floor from the stage towards me.  Her voice contained an uncharacteristically angry note, as she said, “Katy wants you to pack up your kit.”

  “Now?” we may have been the last band on, but the dark haired girl in the sound booth was happily playing lazy, summery guitar records, and the night was still young.

  “Yeah,” she was sullen, and the expression on her face suggested that any further discussion would be futile.  I shrugged, and then made my way over to the stage.

  The young scruffy mouse of a girl from the sound booth was on hand to assist Fliss and me, and we dismantled the kit in no time at all.  Katy waltzed past the crowd of half-hearted dancers without offering to help or even acknowledge us.  A crowd of fans, journalists, and photographers were buzzing around her, and I observed the scene dispassionately; she was quick to turn on the charm for them, I noticed.

  We carried the drums one by one up the dimly lit staircase, and outside to Katy’s car, and I took the opportunity to ask Fliss about the two girls who I had seen earlier in the sound booth.

  “The dark haired girl is Sabine,” sighed Fliss as she helped me lift the bass drum into the boot, “She’s a DJ who sometimes does the Juvenile Hell Girl Night’s.  The other girl is Emily, she’s a student, she does the sound whenever she can, and she does work experience at Twilight – Fergus looks after her, she wants to be a sound engineer, or so I’ve heard.”  She paused, and her expression became wistful as she remarked, almost to herself, “Sabine’s pretty, isn’t she?”

  I nodded, “Very.”

  She sighed, and then shrugged to herself as she gazed at a puddle in the road, “Oh well…” her expression was coy as she watched a petrol swirl turn the grey water rainbow colours.

  As we made our way back down the stairs, we crossed paths with Fergus and his lady friend, who were heading in the opposite direction.  I felt my hackles rise as we nodded to each other, and I was prepared for things to be awkward, if not actually unpleasant, but he seemed friendly enough.  As he complimented us on the show, my eyes strayed to his hands, and I noticed that he wasn’t clasping hers.  She stood a little away from him, watching… His voice interrupted my thoughts, “This is my sister, Fay” he gestured to her and I nodded cautiously in her direction; I was discomforted to discover that her dark eyes were even more penetrating up close than at a distance.  She is slight, like him, but her hair and eyes are a darker brown, and she has the same pale, milky coloured skin as I have.  Where he is tall, she is short, and there was nothing in her manner to suggest that she was related to him.  If only I could have heard her speak, maybe then I could have believed him.

  As we re-entered the post gig party, we could see Emily, Fergus’ protégée, up on stage, packing up.  Fliss joined her, and I returned to the bar, where I found Jenny deep in conversation with my mother.  Liberty Belle was darting about, taking pictures of the crowd, and Fliss and Emily paused to pose for her, only to be shouted at by Katy as she passed by with her trail of disciples, “TODAY, FLISS, TODAY!”

  Fliss quickly darted away from Emily, and back to the guitar leads, and I began to assist, “When did Katy get so bossy?” I asked as I moved the three guitar cases offstage.

  “About three months ago,” muttered Flora as she joined us.

  “What do you say to another hot chocolate and video fest?” I asked Fliss hopefully, but she shook her head, “Sorry, work tomorrow,” she ran off the stage with the leads in her hands, and I picked up the first guitar and slowly followed, feeling puzzled and a little hurt by her abruptness.

Chapter Thirty One: All The Things She Said

“Never mind the Russians, last weeks tabloids may have got themselves all steamed up with their mass publication of the above picture of pouting pop totty, Adrienne Du Shanne, but pop pundits are already much more interested in the identity of her young ‘friend’… at Kings Reach Towers, the smart money is on femme rock band, Titanium Rose, and their ever lovely singer/guitarist, Fliss Keale (pictured below).  Not only does Fliss fit the physical profile, but she is also known to kick with the other foot, having already notched up a fling with Girls From Mars guitarist, Violet Powys.  It’s also been reported that Fliss was spotted out shopping in Manchester city centre with the Burnley born Adrienne on a number of occasions last year…” (New Musical Express, 5th February 2003) 

Jenny warned us about the ‘NME’ story, but she was powerless to stop it.  “This won’t be the end of it.”  She warned Fliss severely at our house the morning after the paper hit the shops.

  Fliss hung her head, and I could tell that she was upset; there were tears in her eyes as Jenny turned her attention to her shrilly ringing mobile. She wasn’t crying about Adrienne, but because she’d been shouted at by Jenny.

  “Don’t deny or confirm any rumours,” Jenny said, more kindly, when she had got rid of the caller.  She sat down opposite Fliss, and gazed at her soulfully, “It’ll be hard, I won’t pretend otherwise, but you have no choice. You can’t deny what’s in front of everyone’s nose, especially after today, and you shouldn’t do, but…” Her expression became grim “I’m asking you not to discuss Adrienne with anyone, especially journalists.”

  Fliss twitched a smile “You’re a journalist.”

  Jenny sighed “I envisioned a day when my management of you might clash with my day job, but I never envisioned it happening so soon, or under such circumstances…” Her tone was businesslike as she said “We may be able to fashion some kind of positive mileage out of it if we’re creative about it, but you need to be careful.”  She locked eyes with Fliss once more as she said, sternly, “No contacting her, no meeting up, no talking about her.”  Fliss nodded subdued agreement as Jenny continued “She has some very powerful industry personalities behind her and her group, none of whom are going to want to encourage her to come out.”

  “What about what she wants?” asked Fliss, softly, but neither of us had an answer for her.

  Perhaps the sorriest aspect of the ‘NME’ coverage was the knowledge that certain people, who we had considered to be friends, were all too eager to cast assumptions to anyone willing to listen.  “Fliss has always had a weakness for unattainable straight girls” Violet had been quoted as saying “She’s very inexperienced and feels safer loving women who won’t love her back.”

  She phoned me on the Wednesday night, and asked to speak to Fliss.  When I icily informed her that Fliss didn’t want to speak to her, her voice took on an increasingly urgent tone as she pleaded “Will you give her a message then?”

  I thought about it as I twisted the phone cord around my finger “I might” I said diffidently.

  “Please Maggie, it’s important, she has to know that I never, I swear…I never said those things they printed in ‘NME’.  Someone phoned me from one of the tabloids, I wouldn’t speak to them, they made something up, and it’s been re-produced, I’m so sorry.”

  Another silence came and went before I said; guardedly “You understand why it’s hard for me to believe you…”

  “Yes, I understand” she sighed, wearily “Fliss is your friend; you want to protect her, I understand that, but… I never said a word, I swear… I never even knew about Adrienne until I saw the papers last week, why would I judge her? Why would I judge either of them? I don’t want to hurt Fliss; I never wanted to do that, she needs wrapping up and taking away from all this, not people making things worse by talking to the press.”

  I relayed her sentiments to Fliss: She believed her.

  On the Friday, we watched ‘Top Of The Pops’ and watched the much-discussed Russian duo, Tatu, perform their number one single, ‘All The Things She Said’.  Much had been made in the tabloids of the girl’s purportedly faux lesbianism, of their relative youth, and of the schoolgirl outfits worn in the video to promote the single, leading such pillars of the establishment as Richard and Judy to call for a public boycott of the single.  The public, naturally, had opted to do otherwise.  Many of the tabloid stories at the weekend had referred to Adrienne as “doing a Tatu”, and the general mood seemed to suggest that lesbianism was about to become the new press merry go round; “Last week vampires, this week lesbianism, next week necrophilia.” Katy had quipped at rehearsal, only half joking.

  Fliss wasn’t amused, but she was eager to see and hear Tatu all the same.  She watched in rapt attention as the two teenage girls exchanged many an intimate glance, sang to each other, and…

  “Damn!” cursed Fliss as the screen cut to a boy and girl in the audience with their tongues rammed down each others throats, for the duration of the guitar solo.  By the time the camera returned to the Tatu girls, they were just emerging from a similarly passionate and prolonged bout of tonsil hockey.

  We had sat through the flawlessly presented Avril Lavigne, singing about ‘Sk8er bois’, Girls Aloud’s equally unfeasible claims to be singing about ‘The Sound Of The Underground’ and, most unbelievable of all, a preview of the new Girl Trouble single.  Not only had the Tatu edit thrown Fliss back into depression, but such depression had been confounded earlier by a glossy, pouting Adrienne claiming to ‘Love Nobody But You.’  Never mind boycotting Tatu; I was seriously considering boycotting the BBC.

  On the Saturday, Titanium Rose were interviewed for ‘Diva’.  It was a friendly interview, easy and enjoyable; the only tense moment came when Fliss was asked to comment upon her relationship with Adrienne.  The temperature in the room dropped into an icy permafrost, and Fliss’ previously happy expression vanished like the sun under clouds of sorrow.  “I can’t talk about the rumours.” She said carefully, as Jenny had instructed her.  “It’s not going to happen.”  The journalist in question didn’t press the point, but I imagine that she knew as well as we did that it was killing Fliss to say it.

 Fliss stayed in London after we had gone home in order to be interviewed and photographed on the Monday for ‘I.D’ magazine.  She is next month’s cover girl, and is extremely excited about it.  Jenny was pleased too, although not as pleased as Fliss, as she’d been unable to take the time off work to babysit her through it, also “I’d rather it had been a music magazine” she confessed as she dropped in at rehearsal that Monday “But I’m trusting that they won’t turn her into a barely dressed Lolita, or I wouldn’t have agreed to it.” 

  Katy shrugged “It’s good press for the band, why so wary Jenny? You weren’t half as worried when we did ‘Diva’ last month.”

  Jenny reached into her bag, and withdrew a copy of ‘The Mirror’.  “My other half reads it” she said, a little defensively “I just hope that Fliss doesn’t… it’s on page seven.” She added, for the benefit of Katy who had taken possession of the paper and was leafing through it.

  I watched as she scanned the page with increasing impatience.  At last, she pulled back, a low whistle escaping her throat as she murmured “The little bitch…”

  Adrienne was posing in a flared white mini skirt, whilst a black sports jacket made a poor job of concealing her wonderbra; her hair hung across her face, and she was peering up at the camera through long, dark lashes.  The piece itself was short, and concerned a statement that Adrienne had issued.  In it, she denied her relationship with Fliss but confirmed that she and Fliss had had “a brief liaison.”  She regretted the incident; nothing more.

  None of us wanted to show the report to Fliss when she arrived home from London, but it soon transpired that she already knew.  I could tell that she was upset and, as such, I chose not to pursue the matter.  When she ran to her bedroom, I didn’t follow, not even when I heard her crying.

  On the Tuesday, she arrived home from work at ten a.m with the bleak news that she had been sacked.

  “Why?” I asked in surprise.

  “Well, they said it was because I was making mistakes too often, but I think it might have more to do with being plastered all over the newspapers… it took a while for the penny to drop, that’s all.”  Her smile was brittle as she said “Nobody wants to be splashed across the papers in an ‘Adrienne’s Till Girl Girlfriend’ story.”  Despite her uncharacteristic bitterness, her fragility shone through.

  I hugged her, and as she rested her head against my shoulder, I said, in what I hoped was a comforting tone of voice, “Well, at least they haven’t discovered your fondness for skipping yet.”

Chapter Seventeen: A Fresh Start

Jenny Malone cut a distinctive figure as she made her way through the maze of empty tables with our drinks.  Her magenta hair was tied back in pigtails, a series of stick on jewels enhanced her eyebrows, and pale denim hot pants and an old Velocity Girl t-shirt, knotted at the waist, set off black clompy espadrilles.  As she placed the drinks down in front of us, (cokes for her and Katy, Reef for Flora, lemonade for me and Fliss) she said, “Of course, if I’m going to manage you, we’re going to have to make sure we understand each other, so that I can concentrate on what you want, as a band…”

  “As opposed to what’s best for us as a band?” quipped Flora.

  “Well, if you’re not going to enjoy yourselves, what’s the point in being in a band?” replied Jenny.

  We exchanged glances.  It had been Nat who had suggested that we approach Jenny about managing us; she hadn’t wanted the job herself, she said, and in any case, she was about to take over the promotion at Juvenile Hell, and didn’t think that she could devote equal time to both.  Jenny had the experience though, she said, she’d been a promoter, and she’d managed a couple of Liverpool bands before she wrote for ‘NME,’ so she would be a good choice.

  Flora took a deep breath, we had discussed it, so she was speaking for all of us when she said, “I suppose what we want is to get a good deal for us, one that will give us the time, space, and flexibility to create something really good.  We aren’t interested in being famous really quickly, we’d rather it happened at a natural pace, we want a career, not fifteen minutes of fame, and,” she took a deep breath, “we want complete control of our material and our image.”

  Jenny nodded sagely, “You realise that you will have to sacrifice some control in order to get signed.”

  Flora nodded, “We do, but we aren’t willing to become someone’s creature, we aren’t in this to be the next Girl Trouble or Atomic Kitten.”

  “What about the next Girls From Mars?” asked Jenny, tentatively. 

  We exchanged glances, “That would be O.K I suppose,” said Flora, cautiously, “but I don’t know if we’re ready to be hyped so much yet, we need space to write and gig more before we’re ready for that.”

  Jenny nodded, “Fine.”

  Now that our proposition had been made and accepted, Flora felt ready to raise yet another issue that had been troubling us, “What happens with you working for ‘NME’ if you go on to manage us?” she asked, “would you have to quit?”

  Jenny laughed, her face lit up as she grinned widely, “Hell no.”  She took a sip of her drink, then continued, “I’m pretty small fry, even if it were an issue, which it isn’t, then I doubt if they’d even notice.”  Flora seemed puzzled, so she explained, “NME’ writers are always setting up record labels, and then writing glowing reviews of bands that they just happen to release records by, not to mention all the sexual connections there are between certain male journalists and certain female P.R’s…”

  Katy grinned, “That’s useful to know…”

  We went on to Fab Café on Portland Street after our stint at The Twilight, and on the way we passed a series of large pink and black posters advertising The Girls From Mars’ first single for Hardpop, ‘She Sees Red.’  It’s about a girl in Bolton who got in the local papers for twatting someone with a chair at school after they stole her diary and put extracts of it up on the internet.  It was kind of an unusual choice for their debut single I suppose, but ‘Rock School Bitch’, which would have been my choice, probably wouldn’t have got them on the Radio One playlist like ‘She Sees Red’ has.  Fliss and I are going to see them next month at Manchester Academy: Very grand, and a very different venue to The Gates or The Twilight.

  I’ve been hearing ‘She Sees Red’ a lot, even before it got playlisted.  It doesn’t sound as scuzzy as it did when they did it live, but songs always sound different on record, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  I think the video surprised me more… I know Violet and Moyra had wanted to do a low budget re-enactment of the schoolgirl chair-bashing incident for the video, in grainy CCTV style black and white, but I guess the school said no.  As it is, it’s more like ‘Bad Girls’ than ‘Grange Hill’, with the Girls decked out in prison style uniforms, being mock arrested and so on, playing in a mock cell etc.  The pictures are very stylised and glossy, and airbrushed, with Moyra and Violet in the foreground, looking punkish yet glamorous, and Jane and Andrea in the background, looking more punk and less glamorous.  I suppose they surprised me because they were so unnatural but then, I suppose all publicity pictures are like that.

  The Girls From Mars are in London at the moment, doing press, radio, T.V… they seem to have been gone for an awful long time, and I could sense that Fliss was missing Violet as she gazed up at the posters in Piccadilly.

  “When are they back, Fliss?” asked Nat when we arrived at Fab Café, but Fliss just shrugged sadly, “Be your posters up around town soon,” she teased.

  Jenny shook her head sadly, “I don’t think they want to be famous,” she said, in mock sadness, “They’ve been saying that they want to ‘take things slow’.” She made inverted commas in the air.

  “I want to be famous,” said Katy, “but we should wait a bit, I mean, Fliss isn’t even legal for one thing.”

  Jenny nodded, “I thought that that might be something to do with it.”

  Surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with Katy.  It would be O.K for the rest of us because Flora and I are both twenty, and Katy’s nearly nineteen, but Fliss is only sixteen.  O.K, she’ll be seventeen this year, but even still, that’s young.

  The party broke up quite quickly at Fab Café.  Jenny left with Nat after about an hour, having arranged to meet up with Liberty and go on to Juvenile Hell, whilst Katy offered Flora, Fliss and I a lift home.  She has quit her supermarket job, and seemed to be in amazingly good spirits.  “This is really the start of something now,” she said as we drove along the A6, “I think we’re really starting to get somewhere.”

 “You said that when we signed to One Way Or Another,” pointed out Flora.

  “Call me flighty then,” called back Katy, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel “but I still reckon we’re getting somewhere this time.”

  As we pulled up in front of the flat, she turned to Fliss, next to her on the front seat, and asked, “Are you coming to see Prick Tease in Leeds next week? I’ll drive us.”

  Fliss shook her head, “I have to go home then,” she said sadly, “It’s Jack’s christening next week,” Jack is the name of Fliss’ elder sister’s son, born last October.  “I’m there all week.”

  Katy nodded, but I could tell that she was disappointed.  She craned her neck, and peered over the top of the headrest, to where Flora was sat, placidly knitting.  “Coming to see Prick Tease, Flor?”

  Flora shook her head, she didn’t look up from her needles as she said, “Too many clothes to make, too many university assignments…” her hands seemed to speed up as she spoke, “too little time…”

  There was a long, long pause, and then…

  Katy turned her attention to me, and said, rather aggressively, “I don’t suppose you’d like to come and see Prick Tease next week.”

  And to everyone’s surprise, including my own, I said, “Yes.”

Chapter Fourteen: The End Of An Era

I heard about the collapse of One Way Or Another from Nat; she phoned me a couple of days ago and left a message with Fliss.  I did call her back, but there was no reply, so my opportunity to speak to her about it came tonight, at our gig at The Gates.

  It was a cruel irony that saw us back there only weeks after the triumph that was our launch party.  For now, of course, things are very different.  The One Way Or Another banner no longer hung behind us as we played, and there were no DJ’s, just the Strokes album, played repeatedly by the sound crew through the speakers.  All the glitz, good humour, colour, and enthusiasm had gone.  We were no longer bending an over excited audience of friends, fans, and family to our will in a palace of our own construction.  We were playing in a bleak, dank, cold, dingy cellar, on a stage held together by milk crates.  The rain, which had been pelting down without remorse for the past week, persuaded most of our friends to stay at home, so our audience was made up of the other bands on the bill and a handful of bored students.  The palace, built on sand, had crumbled into the sea.

  “I did phone him,” I informed Nat as we leant against the bar and gloomily watched the headliners, Grunt Pig, perform their hybrid of rap, metal, and Liam Gallagher impressions to a lukewarm audience, “but he never called me back.”

  She shifted awkwardly in the light from the bar and trained her eyes to the floor, “I know.”

  “Oh?”

  “Yeah,” she reached into her large, black patent leather handbag and drew out her cigarettes and Betty Boop lighter, “I was there… when he checked the machine I mean… He gave me a lift to work that day,” she wouldn’t meet my eyes, “he mustn’t have checked it that night, maybe he was out or something…” she trailed off as she lit her cigarette, and her eyes strayed past me to the bottles behind the bar.  I sensed a vague discomfort on her part, which I didn’t understand.

  Fergus wasn’t here tonight, which, given the circumstances, was perhaps just as well…

  “What did he do for us anyway?” snapped Katy as she stalked the dressing room like an enraged tigress, “We’re better off without him,” we watched as she kicked the newly painted walls with her docs, “couldn’t even be bothered to show tonight,” she muttered moodily.

  “Maybe he was worried about what we’d think of him,” suggested Fliss, a little apprehensively.  She was curled up in one of the new armchairs, and was watching Katy’s pacing with an increasingly alarmed expression.

  “More like he’s banging some tart back at his flat,” retorted Katy.

  I gripped the arms of the armchair I was sitting in.  Fliss happened to glance in my direction at that moment, and I saw a brief, silent, coded exchange take place a moment later between her and Flora.  Flora nodded, and Fliss got up from her chair, “Let’s do a couple of rounds on the games machines,” she said to Katy.

  “Did you know anything?” asked Flora a few minutes later as she rested her elbows on the slippery surface of the bar.  “Did you have any idea?”

  I nodded guiltily, “But I never thought that things were this bad.”  I added hastily.

  “Why didn’t you tell us?”

  The guilt lay heavily on me as I admitted, “I just thought that things would be alright.”

  It seemed oddly poignant to play ‘The Battle You Cannot Win’ tonight, and to hear Fliss sing those words, the words that I wrote in anger, that are true, but, well, are they true now? He could win now, he could win me over, despite everything that’s happened; I knew it from the moment that Fliss sang ‘Never Sleep,’ to the melody that she had written, but with the words that I had helped to write, I almost wanted him to be there to hear them.

                                    I never asked for you

                                    Never wanted you

                                    Before

                                    But now

                                    I do, oh I do

                                    Want you

Yet I’m glad now that he wasn’t there.

  I had gone to bed more or less as soon as Fliss and I arrived home, but around three or four ish I woke up again.  I was thirsty, so I went to the kitchen for a glass of water.  The lights were on in the living room as I passed along the hallway, because Fliss was still up, and she was watching a video of last weeks Girls From Mars gig at The Gates.  Neither of us went to the gig and so, curious about what I’d missed, I joined her on the sofa.

  The Girls From Mars set had nearly finished, and after the band had left the stage, a DJ played indie, punk and mainstream dance records, whilst the aspiring video director took to panning around the club, catching the energy of the crowd, the heat and humidity of the dancing, and the wide array of flesh on display.  Occasionally, the camera lingered on people of interest, such as Moyra, coolly ensconced with a fresh pint at the side of the stage, or Liberty Belle and Jenny Malone, working, not drowning.  After a few minutes of this, the camera began to close in on a curvaceous, P.V.C and lycra clad beauty with blonde highlights in her light brown hair.  She was dancing with a taller man, dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans, his jaw length wavy hair flicked across his face, and she smoothed stray strands away as she stroked his face.  The camera homed in even closer, capturing the growing intimacy of the couple as the music changed from Garbage to Girls On Top.  Soon he had his arms around her waist, and she slipped her arms around his neck as she leant in close and began to kiss him, briefly and almost casually at first, then longer, and much more passionately.

  Fliss picked up the remote control and stopped the tape.  Nat and Fergus were still dancing together, in my mind, as she ejected the video and put it back in its case.

  Be good to me, Fliss had sung earlier, be good to me.  Don’t hurt me.  Because I can’t be hurt by you too.

  I can’t cry.  I want to, but I can’t.  Instead I keep on seeing her kissing him, I keep dwelling on the way his arms encircled her, and I know that they look right together. The song they had been dancing to was ‘We Don’t Give A Damn About Our Friends,’ which makes me smile I have to say; smile though your heart is breaking.  It’s not as though there’s anyone present that I need to pretend to, and yet… I need to pretend in order to go on.  Because without the pretence that everything is fine, my world will crumble, we go on because we hope for something better, and that’s what I want: something better.

  I can’t sleep, I can’t cry, I am numb.  I am stone.

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.

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