Chapter Sixty Five: Smashing The Looking Glass

“…And move to the right, sweetheart, hand on your hip, lift the skirt up, and open your eyes, wider, c’mon sweetie, really wide, big eyes…”

  Fliss was posed against a white backdrop in a pale pink empire line mini-dress which just about covered her thighs. A pale pink satin ribbon had been tied around her head in a huge bow, and another was tied like a choker around her neck.  As she widened her eyes and parted heavily glossed pink lips, I exchanged a look with Flora.  She raised her eyebrows at me, and then rolled her eyes as she glanced at the stylist, Jared, who was watching the shoot in barely contained rapture.

  “It’s not that I have anything against gay men,” she had remarked earlier as we got changed into various skimpy outfits put aside for us, “but gay male stylists are a real cliché, and I don’t know that they always understand women very well.”  She held her breath as I yanked the zip up on her mini kilt, and then continued, “of course, there are plenty of women who don’t understand women either, but…” she sighed as she threw her hands up in frustration, “Oh I just loathe stylists…”

  I wasn’t so keen on Jared myself; upon meeting him face to face, (well, head to chest: he must be at least a foot shorter than me…) he had positively recoiled, letting out a little squeal as he exclaimed that he was under the impression that I was “One of those pro-ana babes,” and not the strapping amazon wench stood before him.  Very flattering, I’m sure.  I’m going to have to start taking bounty’s out on all those journalists who’ve called me anorexic, it’s bad enough being labelled troubled and difficult without the anorexia tag as well.

  We didn’t do so many group shots this time; it was mainly portraits of us individually, which I loathe.  Jared and the photographer, Kyle, spent a lot of time on Fliss.  As well as the candyfloss pink ensemble, they had her wear a black cutaway mini dress, equally as short as the pink dress, with black bows in her hair, looking sweetly demure.  Other outfits included a manga style sailor suit, complete with baggy socks and mary janes, “Putting the tits back into titillation,” was how Flora wearily surmised it.

  We bore our own photo shoots with a combination of weary impatience and barely contained rage.  Whilst Katy was permitted to stick to the ‘serious rock star’ uniform of jeans and t-shirt, Flora had to flash a bit of leg and cleavage for the lens, and I found my legs to be on permanent display.  Despite being a size fourteen these days, I still have no boobs worth highlighting, which is probably just as well really… as it was, it was mini skirts, hotpants, and skin tight jeans of both the denim and P.V.C variety all the way, the former two being uncomfortable, the latter horribly clammy.  We were both glad when it was over.

  Afterwards, we had band practice upstairs at Twilight Studios.  I could feel the tension in the air as we set up our equipment, and I could see by the self-satisfied smirk on her face that Katy was pleased with herself.

  Over by the stark white walls, and the wide, stone windowsill, Fliss was staring out of the window, a strangely solemn figure in her butterfly flip flops and her blue checked dress, her hair hanging loosely down her back once more.  I walked over to her, and stood next to her, trying to see what she was looking at.  “Do I look like a doll?” she murmured, her voice tight with anger.

  I frowned, “No.”

  “Then why does everyone treat me like one?” she snapped, her eyes flashing, “They see the blonde hair, the blue eyes, and they assume…”

  “Come on,” I lightly touched her arm, “let’s go down to the kitchen for some coffee.”  To my relief, she allowed herself to be led, but I could sense her frustration as we walked.  She wouldn’t look at me, but I know that I would have fried in the glare of her angry eyes had she lifted her gaze from the worn, coffee stained carpet.

  She seemed a little calmer when we returned, and whilst Flora and Katy had evidently had words whilst we were out of the room, they too were outwardly calm, and band practice could commence.  We began with one of Katy’s new songs, ‘Perfect Dream,’ which is about having a sexy (but suitably clean for the pre teen market) dream about the perfect boy, but being too shy to do anything when you meet him in real life.  I’ve done what I can to make it interesting, but it’s still nauseating.  Fliss hates it, especially as Katy makes her sing it in a way that isn’t natural to her.  The chorus is especially drippy, with lots of oohs and sighing and so on, and Katy spent a lot of time going over it with her, not discussing it, but telling Fliss how to sing it.

  The other songs we worked on were new Katy songs too, and were more of the same really.  Flora stopped playing halfway through the second one, and asked, “Why are you writing this kind of shit? We’ve never sung songs about boys.”

  We have, actually, but I knew what Flora meant: We haven’t written fluffy little ditties with passive narratives, they’ve always had an edge somehow.

  Katy didn’t answer, she just said, “If it sells…”

  “Oh, well,” snapped Flora, scathingly, “if it sells, we can be Ashlee, Avril and Amy all in one for all I care.”

  Talk turned to cover versions soon after, with much heated discussion as to which song was to be our next cover for our next tour.  Flora, Fliss and I wanted to try Maxine Darren’s ‘How Can I Hide It From My Heart’, because Fliss played it to us once, and we felt it had great garage rock potential.  Fliss also suggested the Go-Go’s ‘Good Girl’, and Dale and Grace’s ‘I’m Leaving It Up To You’, but Katy favoured something better known; she wanted to do The Bangles ‘Eternal Flame.’

  There was a long icy silence before Fliss said, coldly, “Just what I always wanted to do, perform Atomic Kitten’s cast offs for the lairy beer crowd.”  She turned on Katy, her eyes aflame once more as she snapped “It’s soppy eighties romanticism in short skirts, and I want no part of it.”

  I wasn’t sure where the short skirts reference had come from; maybe Fliss was still seething over the photo shoot.

  “It suits your voice,” said Katy, calmly.

  “So does ‘Barbie Girl’, but you don’t want me to cover that!”

  “Do you want to cover ‘Barbie Girl’?”

  “NO!”  She walked away from the microphone, and unplugged her guitar.

  “What are you doing?” Katy’s voice was quiet, but there was a dangerous edge to her voice.

  “Leaving,” Fliss put her guitar back into its case, and locked it.  She walked over to the chair she had left her bag on, and calmly picked it up.  In the doorway, she paused as she said, “I mean it, Katy, I’m sick of being your little princess, your eye candy… I won’t put up with it anymore, I’m leaving, and I won’t be coming back.  You can hire another singer to front your band, or” she glared at her, “maybe a model would be more appropriate.”  With that last remark, she turned and walked away, closing the door behind her.

  With the closing of the door, I snapped out of my temporary paralysis as I threw down my drumsticks, and jumped to my feet, “Fliss!” I tried to follow her, but Katy was barring my way, “FLISS!”

  “Are you happy now?” she snapped.

  I pushed her, “I haven’t time for this…”

  She swung me round by my elbow so that I was facing her, her grip was painfully hard as she said, “You turned her against me; it’s your fault she wants to leave!”

  I struggled with her, “I didn’t turn her against you; you did that yourself.”

  “Fliss was my best friend until you came along! We grew up together; she’s like my little sister!”

  “Who you just pimped to the lad mags!” I yelled.

  It was Flora who broke the silence as she said, in withering tones, “Maybe if those industry contacts you love so much had treated either Maggie or Adrienne better, maybe Fliss wouldn’t be so bloody disillusioned with the whole music business, you don’t half chat a load of shit sometimes, Katy…”

  As they rounded on each other, Katy relinquished her grip on my arm, and I seized my chance to escape.  This was an argument best kept out of, I felt, and Fliss was the one who mattered then.

  I expected to find her waiting for me at home, but I was disappointed.  It was only half three at that point, so most of our friends were at work.  I phoned Emily’s number, but received no answer.  It’ll be alright, I told myself, they’re probably together, they’ll turn up soon.  But when it got to half six, and Fliss still wasn’t home, I rang Fergus and asked him to drive me over to Emily’s house in Fallowfield.

  As it is July, most of the students have gone home, so there was only Emily there when we knocked.  She blinked sleepy brown eyes at us in the early evening sunshine as she attempted to figure out the motive for our visit.  “Fliss was here,” she confirmed as she curled up in an armchair, “but she left, we argued, and she left.”  She seemed a little puzzled, but wasn’t overly upset, “I assumed that she was going home.”

  “What did you argue about?” I pressed her.

  “The band”

  Back at the flat, I entered her room with a certain amount of trepidation, “Are you sure you should be doing this?” asked Fergus as he followed me inside.

  “I can’t think of any other option, can you?”

  “Have you tried her mobile?”

  I nodded, “It was switched off.”

  We sat down on Fliss’ neatly made bed and looked around us.  Her room had changed a lot since that day, nearly four years ago, when we had moved in.  Marmalade was curled up on Fliss’ pillow; she woke up when we sat down on the bed and surveyed us with unforgiving amber eyes.  Fliss usually lets her sleep on the bed, situations permitting that is.  I walked over to the windowsill and gazed out at the street, Think, I ordered myself, where would she go?

  Behind me, I heard the movement of paper and turned around.  Fergus was looking through a selection of books and fanzines by Fliss’ bed.  Hilary McKay’s ‘Permanent Rose’ was rubbing spines with ‘A Country Punk’ fanzine, and Emily Prager’s ‘Roger Fishbite.’  No clues there then.

  I opened her wardrobe and carefully checked to see if anything was missing.  There were no obvious gaps, but I missed a few outfits here and there, including Fliss’ fifties style ballgown, and a pair of jeans that I knew hadn’t been worn recently.

  “Where would she keep her address book?” I wondered aloud.

  Fergus handed me Fliss’ bag that she had taken to rehearsal, “Her purse and mobile have gone.”

 “Anything else?”

  “No, but I can’t see her guitar anywhere, can you?”

  “No, not now you mention it…”

  Over on Fliss’ dressing table were two framed photographs, one on either side of the mirror.  One was of Adrienne, dating from the time in 2003 when she had stayed with us; the other was a more recent photo of Emily, posed self-consciously by the stage at Juvenile Hell.  I opened the drawer beneath Adrienne’s picture, a tiny, ornate, brass knobbed drawer, so small I hadn’t noticed it at first.  Inside was an envelope containing letters, which I glanced at, then decided that Fliss wouldn’t want me to read.

  Fergus saw my shoulders tense, “What is it?” he put his arm around my waist, and peered over my shoulder.

  “Love letters,” I said quietly as I slid them back into the envelope, “Adrienne to Fliss.”  I placed the envelope down on the table and lifted out a second envelope.  This one contained photos, photos Fergus glanced at before quietly slipping them back into the envelope, his face unreadable.

  Underneath the two envelopes was a book, I turned over the pages with great care, careful not to smudge any of the writing, “It’s lyrics,” I said at last, “and poetry, there’s some drawings too…” It was quite a thick book, and things were dated.  “There’s the original lyrics to ‘Be My Girl’” I said, “and look,” I pointed to a particularly messy page, “’Itchy Fingers’, she wrote that with Violet.”

  “’Grey Eyed Girl’,” Fergus read over my shoulder, “I don’t remember that.”

  “No, nor do I,” I scanned the lyrics, “It’s recent, and…”

  “It’s about Katy,” said Fergus, softly.

  “How can you tell?”

  “’My shadow, my sister?’ and look,” he pointed to a different paragraph of Fliss’ scrawl, “that bit’s about childhood.”

  I flicked back a bit, and saw ‘My Heart Is In Your Hands’, and another Adrienne song, ‘She’s Trouble’, then I came to the songs written when I was ill, ‘I’ll Get Along’, ‘If You Only Had Me’, ‘Tap Dance’, ‘Your Face’, ‘I Feel For Her’, ‘Turn Me Crazy’, and… There was a song that I had seen before, but I know we never played it; I had seen it on the table in our living room, amidst newspaper cuttings, now I read it all, and so many feelings came back as I read.  Fergus held me, his head rested on my shoulder as he read it with me.  My vision became blurred with tears as I followed the lines:

 
Silence reins as she screams inside her head

Make it stop, make it stop

Put everything back

The way it was.

“Are you alright?” Fergus asked.

  I nodded.

  “You’re shaking like you’ve seen a ghost.”

  “I have,” I whispered.

  “How did she know all that stuff?”

  I shook my head, “I don’t know, I suppose I wasn’t as good at hiding what was going on as I thought.”  But it was the last verse that haunted me:

And the all seeing eyes

Of those who went before

Tell a story

A story that no one wants to know

A story of darkness from light

Fear from happiness

The harshness of the spotlight

The dark hours of the soul

How they died inside for rock’n’roll.

Shakily, I put the book and the two envelopes back in their drawer.  Over on the bed, Marmalade stretched and stood up.  I saw Fergus reach across to the space the cat had vacated, “A letter,” he said.  He was about to break the seal, but I saw him hesitate.  He handed it to me, “She would want you to open it.”

  It was a short note:

  Maggie,

I can’t be in the band anymore, I can’t pretend to be the little girl I was four years ago, I’m sorry.  I’m going somewhere where I can think, I will get in touch soon, but you mustn’t worry.  I will be with someone who can help me and look after me, as I know Fergus will look after you.

  Look after Marmalade for me, remember she likes the pouches and the dried food better than the tins.

Fliss

 

  He stayed with me that night, I would have asked him to, had he not already decided to, because I didn’t want to be alone then.  I felt very tired and shaky, and I could feel an indefinable sadness growing inside my soul.  It was because I was missing Fliss, but it was also more than that: I knew, but I didn’t want to, what was likely to happen next.  Fliss words haunt me still:

She has broken down

She has shut down

They haunt me even now, because they remind me, of what has been, and of what is to come, it mustn’t come though, it mustn’t happen again, not now.  As I drifted off into sleep, I remembered Fliss, I saw her face, and I saw her holding her cat.  I saw her running around the flat when we first moved in, and I saw her storming out of rehearsal, heard her say the words that she had written in her letter, “I can’t pretend to be the little girl I was four years ago.”  I can’t pretend, can’t be that girl, I’m not a little girl anymore.  She isn’t, I know that now, why did it take so long for me to realise it?

Chapter Ten: A Manchester Christmas

Christmas has crept up on me this year.  I used to get so excited about it when I was little, I would spring out of bed on Christmas morning, long before sunrise, and run down the stairs to open my presents, only to be thwarted by my mother who, knowing what I was like, had hidden the presents the night before.  I would pester her unremittingly for hours until she would give in and get up, then, I would help her make Christmas dinner, and we would eat it off trays in front of the telly; afterwards, we would open our presents.

  This Christmas Day, I got up around nine o’clock and made my way sleepily down the stairs to the kitchen, where my mother was already washing and preparing potatoes for roasting.  The radio was on, and a selection of Christmas records was playing.

  “Merry Christmas,” she said, jollily, as she passed me a handful of carrots to wash, scrape, and chop.

  “Merry Christmas,” I replied, equally cheerfully, as I set to work.

  The day was typically cold, yet fairly bright, with not a flake of snow in sight.  Later, as it grew dark, we lit candles and outside, house after house set off fireworks, and the noise grew until it drowned out every other sound.  No carol singers walked along our streets, no snow fell.  My mother put down her glass of brandy and bowl of Christmas pudding, walked over to the T.V, and turned up the volume.

  On Boxing Day, I went to see Tony in Mottram, and, as usual, came home wondering why I’d bothered.  It’s not even a case of whether I love him or not, how can you love someone you never knew?

  Lise, my pretty and precocious blonde thirteen-year-old half sister let me in.  She was wearing low rider jeans, a hot pink tight t-shirt, emblazoned with the message ‘Porn Star’, and an expression of studious boredom, which contrasted sharply with the harassed tones of Emily, her mother, who could be heard all the way from the kitchen.  Inside the living room, Andrew and Tony were playing Nintendo, whilst Jay, an uncannily angelic six year old, watched them from the sofa, stuffing down the contents of a Thorntons selection box at an impressive rate.  The curtains were still drawn, and Jay and Andrew were both still in their pyjamas.  Suddenly, Emily barged past me and Lise, relieved Jay of what was left of the chocolates, and turned off the Nintendo, to much protestation.  “You two!” she roared, “Upstairs, now! Get dressed!” and with much sulky muttering, they obeyed.  Tony got to his feet, and stretched luxuriously.  We share very little physical resemblance; about the only thing I get from him is the height.  He followed Emily through to the kitchen, and, ignored and forgotten, Lise and I settled down on the sofa.  She picked up the selection tray and offered it to me, I selected a praline, and we settled in for the long haul.

  Lise wants to meet my mum, she says.  She says that when her dad talks about her she sounds “totally wild.”

  “What does he say about her?” I asked, curious.

  “He always goes on about being a punk for ages, and how all my music is shite, then he starts talking about your mum, and how she was, like, this mad, sexy actress woman… then my mum gets this evil expression on her face and makes him shut up.  I want to be an actress…”

  Since Lise has wanted to be something different every Christmas since I’ve known her, I didn’t take this latest career decision too seriously: The previous Christmas she had wanted to be a pole dancer.

  “How’s your mother?” asked Tony, gruffly, as I waited for my taxi home that evening.

  “Fine,” I replied automatically.

  “Good.”

  We had been reciting this particular series of exchanges for the past five years.

  “It’s your birthday next month, isn’t it?” he said.

  “Yes, that’s right.”

  “And you’ll be, what, nineteen is it now?”

  “Twenty.”

  He shook his head, “Twenty… you all grow up so fast these days.”

  “How was he then?” asked mum, indifferently, when I arrived back that evening.

  “Oh, you know…” I replied vaguely, “the same.”

  She nodded sadly, “I’m sure he tries…”

  “I know he tries,” I found myself echoing her emphasis on the word, “but it was never going to be normal, was it?”

  “No,” she agreed quietly, “it wasn’t.”

  Katy, amidst much complaining, and definitely against her better judgement, had gone home to the Cotswolds for Christmas, taking Fliss with her.  The plan was for Katy to spend the 22nd, 23rd, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day with her parents, after which she would decamp to Fliss’ family’s house.  The pair of them are due to return on the second of January, just in time for our first interview with ‘NME’, which is due to take place on the third.  It’s to be part of a feature about “The New Manchester Scene,” apparently; whatever that is.

  Flora, like me, had stayed in Manchester for Christmas.  She’s been temping and doing phone work, plus working on assignments for University.  Her parents have gone abroad for Christmas and, fearing that she might be lonely, I arranged to meet her for a pre-Christmas drink.

  We met up at Hardpop on the 22nd.  The One Way Or Another Christmas party had happened only days before, yet you wouldn’t have known it; the tinsel was still there, complimented now by fairy lights, but the glitter had been swept from the floor and although the crowd was equally boisterous, the atmosphere was somehow different.  The D.J alternated between playing electroclash and new Detroit punk, presumably unsure as to which side he ought to come down on.  Flora and I sipped our drinks sceptically. 

  “This is nice,” she said at last.

  “Yeah”

  There was an awkward pause, during which we took it in turns to stare at the floor and ceiling.

  “I hope Katy isn’t having too terrible a time at home,” she remarked, before adding, “I wish that you two could learn to get on.”

  “Katy hates me,” I stated.

  “No she doesn’t,” sighed Flora, “she just doesn’t understand you.”

  “Well, I don’t understand her,” I snapped, “but I tolerate her.”

  “You scare her,” said Flora, quietly.

  “I scare her?”

  “You’re very cold, very casual… very… distant and evasive.  She doesn’t like that.”

  There was a long silence between us; ‘Seven Nation Army’ blared out.

  “I’m not cold.” I said at last.

  “Maybe not intentionally cold,” replied Flora gently, “but that’s how it comes across… Fliss says you’re different at home, so does your mum.”

  “What, are you psychoanalysing me now or something?” I snapped, angrily, “This isn’t what I came out for, Flora; I came out to enjoy myself.”

  “And to keep me company,” she said quietly.

  I looked away.

  “It’s alright, quite flattering really, but I’m not lonely,” her brown eyes showed that she was at pains to get this across, “I just like my own company, still,” her tone became more business like, “I did figure that I had a chance to talk to you about Katy, because I really don’t want this band to fall apart when we’ve barely even started…”

  I nodded.

  “Good.”

  I saw Fergus briefly at The Twilight Studios Christmas party; he accosted me whilst I was there, and extracted a promise from me to go and see ‘Ghost World’ with him at The Filmworks on the second of January.  Fliss hadn’t arrived home before Fergus picked me up, so I left her a note, telling her where I’d gone.

  As we walked through the dark, echoing, noise-fuelled, crowded arcade that was the Printworks, he asked, “Have you eaten?” I hadn’t, so after we’d bought our tickets we decided to dodge our way back through the crowds, already spilling out of the bars, and find somewhere to eat.  We went to a restaurant next door to the cinema, where the décor had a Mexican theme, and indie rock made up the soundtrack.  It was quite dark inside, so each table was lit by candlelight.  We ordered penne pasta with tomatoes, olives, and cheese, and then shared a huge chocolate ice-cream sundae.

  I waited at the table as he went to pay the bill.  It seemed to be taking him a long time, and when I looked over to see what was taking so long, I saw the woman at the till hand back his card.  She was frowning and shaking her head.  I saw him take the card back and count the cash in his wallet; there was some hesitation there and, sensing some kind of difficulty, I joined him by the till.  “What’s up?” I asked, sotto voce.

  I sensed his embarrassment as he said, equally quietly, “I don’t seem to have quite enough cash…”

  “What about your cards?” he shook his head and I decided not to pursue the matter, “how much do you need?”

  “Ten pounds twenty seven pence.”

  I paid up.

  As we travelled up the escalator to cinema five in the airy, carpeted Filmworks, he said quietly, “I’m so sorry, I will pay you back, just as soon as I can.”

  “You don’t have to” I shrugged, “that’s what friends are for.”

  “Yes,” he said dully, “friends.”

  We had arrived at the top of the escalator then, and as we walked along the thick, plush carpets, past the fast food stops, past the screen showing trailers, to the sweet shop, I asked, “Do you want anything?”

  He shook his head each time, seemingly preoccupied.  He didn’t speak to me once all evening after that.