Chapter 11: 'Gory Days' by Rosie Scott
In the end I got Moe to drive up to the little gallery in a back street somewhere off Queen Street. It was an electric night, huge beat-up machines with their ‘ mufflers off, thrashing up and down the main drag, the drivers hanging out the car windows full of spunk, racy with sexual tension. New Zealand mums and dads and kids tormented with fear for the future, shrinking from the menacing edges of city life, only sheer love for their children drawing them past the people they’d rather not know. You could see that muggings in car-parks, disease and violent death haunted them as they walked.
The air was so full of urgency you. could smell it – babies to be born, people to fall in love with, there was blood on the footpath outside the pub, the shine of sex in the air, and rock music so loud you couldn’t think. It was so cheap and flashy and alive we stopped to watch it for a while.
Moe said, ‘Shit, there’s some class here. Those girls walk past so beautiful.’ By common consent we didn’t refer to Roxy. ‘Well, I’ve got to go,’ I said.
He didn’t want to come to Patrick’s opening.
‘Nah. Is it that kid Patrick? Nah. I might go round and see a mate of mine. Out Sandringham. You going to Mainstreet after?’
‘Yes,’ I said. I wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic. ‘I might see you there.’
‘You’ve got my car, mate. You bloody better.’
‘Fair enough,’ he said, not put out. We were still respectful of each others weakness.
Walking inside the gallery was like entering another dimension. Queen Street was raucous and seedy in contrast. Graceful kids in light white airy clothes, they looked like sprites in the clean light. It wasn’t the sort of place I liked and I felt like leaving the minute I walked in. There were art students, glamorous musos, executives, people like that, confident in their chosen vocation and out to further their careers by a little talk in the right place, something I’ve never been very good at. They were all wonderfully decadently beautiful, their extravagant skin and mouths and hair touching on a certainty that I knew nothing about. They were good-natured and on the make and the air was full of projects which didn’t include me.
My own plans were quite nebulous – I just wanted a couple of quick drinks, a word with Patrick and then off to Mainstreet – but as soon as I got there I could see it wasn’t going to be as easy as that. Patrick wasn’t there for a start. He’d probably seen me and bolted. His betrayal was only a minor matter to me in the face of everything else, so he was really overdoing things. I knew he was young and scared and I didn’t hold it against him that much. I was surprised that he was taking it all so seriously.
I just stood against the wall drinking, waiting for him to come back. Everything looked promising for a first exhibition, there were even a few red stickers. Those cream gallery walls always suck the vitality out of even the best painting and his was no exception, but you could see at a glance that they were good. It pissed me off seeing them hanging there so pristine and cared for when my own pictures back home were lying in a heap of murderous rubble. But that was something I couldn’t risk giving my full attention to. It wasn’t worth giving way to my instincts in this piss-weak little gallery. There was too much else going on in my life, without making a scene here. I had to keep all my energy for the real performance.
The gallery was student-run by some kind of loose co-operative and you could see the rough edges. They’d put on a huge feast, and there were empty platters everywhere littered with chicken and ham bones and the odd bit of crusty French bread. They’d made the mistake of putting out too much wine as well – you could tell business wasn’t their strong point. You could always pick the successful galleries, they doled out wine by the glass and gave you little crackers with bits of parsley. No only that, but here there was an expectation in the air that you: never felt in the high-class galleries. People were still half hoping: for a miracle. The style, the- expectation, all of it reminded me of the first opening I ever went to, at the Uptown Gallery, for an exhibition called ‘Urban Sprawl’ or something like that.
I went feeling apprehensive as if there was going to be something very significant about it, but it all turned out quite differently. The pictures were all Gretchen Albrecht clones and not nearly as strong. They were semi-abstract, with no style or conviction to them, dead as mutton. Even at the time I was an uppity bitch and never patient with bad work, and I remember the pictures irritated me from the moment I saw them. Not only that, but some middle-aged jerk attached himself to me before I’d hardly walked in the door.
He was the kind of guy who was hoping everything about him would be remembered and written down, so he was always playing to the invisible biographers. He fully expected future generations to marvel at his light play of wit, his triumphant sexuality. He was frozen in the Henry Miller phase, women being bowled over by his powerhouse intellect and hard-cock type of approach. He’d done it all so many times before his eyes were tired. He talked to me for a few minutes and eyeing me like a dog, he put his arm patronisingly around me and said something like, ‘You’re very special. I fancy you.’ Then he put his lips close to my ear so that I felt the sigh of foul breath and the tickle of his beard and whispered dramatically, ‘Do you know, little girl, that I come like a train?’
I found out later he was a writer well known for his silliness. At the time the very thought of that flabby middle-aged body rotted out with wine and pretentious literary endeavour was fairly hard to stomach. I am always the first to admit that my life has been fairly sordid, but at least I’d never had to put up with crap like that.
I knew instinctively at the time that there was no answer to the man except violence so I threw the full glass of wine in his face. The wine dripped off his beard, and he started to lick it, making a big thing about the taste, going, ‘Im, im, delicious.’ But he looked a real arsehole and I was launched in the society of Auckland art world as the woman who threw wine over Leon. Generally, people approved of the action, and a lot of women came up to me at parties openly envious that they hadn’t thought of doing it. That was the innocent time when women believed their function was to be handmaidens to the tortured muses of Grafton. That sort of life was new to me, to say the least. But even then women were becoming more open to different interpretations.
Watching Patrick’s opening, you could see a different tone. The people carried themselves with less self-consciousness, they had their own row to hoe and coming like a train was their own private business. Even the shyest didn’t have to prove themselves in such a sad way. There was a harder edge, people here knew it was all for real. They were more interested in money than sex anyway by the look of things.
‘Are you Glory Day?’ A young guy with a soft red mouth came up to me. He was very pretty, with pale skin, a bit like Al. ‘I just wanted to say I love your paintings.’ He had a slight stutter and was obviously suicidally embarrassed, but determined to plough on and get it all out, with some pain to both of us.
“Thanks.’ There was a moment of hideous embarrassment. We stood poised, the boy looking down at his wine glass, his hand tremulous, a half-smile fixed horribly on his face. ‘Thanks.’ I said again. I had caught sight of Patrick and lost my concentration. In the end I said, ‘Excuse me’ to him. I wanted to get out of the place. I moved over to Patrick and grasped his hand really strongly before he could move.
‘How’s things, Patrick?’ 1 asked him.
He smiled at me. He’d dyed part of his hair blue since I’d seen him last and there was sweat on his white-painted face. It made him look sinister, like a bovver boy.
‘Hello, Glory. This friend of mine wants to meet you,’ he said. In seconds we were surrounded by his mates. I realised later that it was nothing sinister, just that they had all been waiting for a chance to pounce anyway, but in my paranoid, semi-drunk state it was like being in the middle of a ring of menacing puppies. I could see they were ready to savage me, play with me, show their baby teeth, and fawn. They wanted a performance. Their good nature shone out of their clear eyes, they were such well fed, soft-faced babies all ready to take on their rightful heritage, a life of wealth and ease and professional status. The aura of Remuera and Epsom still remained in their glitzy Elam clothes. They were only playing decadent. They let you know it was only temporary by a certain clipped authority in the voice, the way their smiles faded quickly once business was completed. But they were admiring in spite of themselves. I was definitely the real thing.
I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I said that and they laughed ingratiatingly. My voice sounded slurred in my own ears. Everywhere I looked I could see their cool skin and the youth of them, the sheer intensity of their attentions. And there was Patrick, edging away, his face a lively mixture of fear and triumph. I caught his arm back and said to him, ‘I’ve only got a minute,’ and pushed him past the ring of kids who watch fascinated. One little punk even moved forward and said, ‘Hey what are you doing?’ but was quickly shushed. I must have been rougher than I thought. I stood him against the wall.
‘Don’t keep running away, Patrick,’ I said. ‘I haven’t got the time.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘That chick Roxy came round. She freaked me out, she said she’d tell my parents if I went witness. Anyway I knew you got that other witness. The transsexual.’
‘The kid’s dead,’ I said to him, real quiet.
There was a hush around us. For all the seemingly absorbed attention people were paying to each other, it was a fragile gathering totally aware of my presence and desperate for news. People readjusted their faces and the buzz of conversation; became deeper and more frantic. They were like flies. Glory Day, flavour of the month, riding high, suspected of fuck knows what. What a coup for Patrick.
‘Please.’ He was licking his lips like a soap actor. He didn’t want his precious opening going down the drain. ‘Listen, Glory, I swear I’ll go witness if it comes to it. I know you’re innocent. I wouldn’t let you down. I just promised her, and then when the cops rang I was too scared.’
‘It’s a bit late. They still think it’s me. You want to help, before it goes to court?’ His soft hand felt like jelly as I crushed it between my hand and the wall.
,Of course,’ he said, frantic.
For a while now I’d been wondering whether Patrick had actually set me up with Marianne. I was never normally so paranoid, but Roxy had taught me a few things. Talking to him I could see straight away that was wrong. He was too shrewd to get involved in such a seedy deal, people like Mitch were too lower class for him. His potential for trouble as a hostile witness had been recognised, that was all, and they had just got to him before I did. He would have made no trouble, a self-server like him, but I was curious about such a flagrant act of betrayal. Even Cash had still tipped me off about Rina. I wasn’t that concerned about it because Sarah would subpoena him anyway, it was just that I didn’t want him to think he’d got it all his own way. It was a point of pride with me.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I didn’t realise. Of course I will.’
He reminded me of Cash – he was so resilient, so hopeful, so wonderfully on the make. But he came from a different strain altogether. His people were from generations of big businessmen, opportunists, pillars of the community who were so quick off the mark at making a buck it was poetry to hear. It was in his blood, robbing people blind, knowing when to smile, when to withhold the power and when to go for the jugular. He didn’t have Cash’s vulgarity, it was all smooth with him. His instincts were so finely honed they did not desert him even in a tight corner.
He was assuming, and I could see it clearly in his eyes, that he would worm his way into my good graces again. He was prepared to go through a period of apology even, it was that important to him, but it was clear he saw no real lasting obstacle. Things were there for the taking and obstacles, even
betrayals were nothing once he’d put his mind to it. It wasn’t in his nature to allow anything to be refused him.
‘I came round to tell you that if you lie in court I’ll see to you personally,’ I said. In some ways he could be as dangerous as Roxy if he was saving his own skin.
He said, ‘Are you threatening me?’ but his voice was shaky with it. It wasn’t to my taste, scaring him, but I had to make him see it wasn’t worth his while.
‘You know what I mean.’ I patted him on the arm, real soft. ‘Mitch and them will go inside for sure over this, but I’ll still be around, so just stay with me.’
‘I don’t know what you mean,’ he said, his eyes wide. I started feeling testy with him then, ready to push him if he tried to approach me with any more of his little boy upper-class bullshit. Not for the first time it was only his paintings which saved him. I walked quietly away from him. I had pins and needles in my legs from the tension. Bloody Moe was nowhere in sight and I just wanted to go. The pale little boy was standing in a corner, pretending to look at a painting. I was drunk enough to go over to go over to him.
‘Can you give me a lift?’ I wanted to get up to Mainstreet, away from this place and Patrick. Up there seemed like a haven in comparison.
The pale boy said, ‘Yes, yes surely. What – where do you want to go? Do you want to go now7’ He was not coping well. I began to regret asking him.
I said, ‘A woman is trying to kill me,’ to put him at ease. He looked around panic-stricken. He was very well mannered, I’d give him that. ‘She’s not here for God’s sake.’ I was starting to get testy with him as well. Either he admired me enough to give me a lift or he didn’t.
He said, ‘Let’s go then,’ collecting himself. He was scarcely out of his teens, poor little man. I must have looked fearsome to him. He was probably wondering if it was some kind of sexual come-on.
Outside it was starting to drizzle and the early exuberance of the night had faded. Things looked uglier, there was less light, people were more menacing. There was a real edge of violence, a strident brassy hum to the streets with cars screaming past, and a group of street kids openly sniffing glue in front of McDonald’s. We found the car just up the alley and I knew I’d asked the right person. It was a Mercedes.
‘This is snazzy,’ I said, heaving myself in.
‘I – I borrowed it.’ He was genuinely embarrassed at the display of wealth.
‘Top of Queen Street,’ I said. He winced at my tone. I suppose I could have been talking to a taxi driver. ‘This woman has just smashed a painting of mine. Wrecked it,’ I said, just to explain myself. He was so suitably horrified it was worth it all.
‘God. Did you get the cops?’
I glanced sideways at him. There was a little shine of moisture on his lower lip, his profile was achingly pure. The car purred over the streets.
‘Yes. I’m doing an exhibition called “Senseless Violets”. It’s a continuation of the last series, but it’s much tighter. I’m using enamel instead of oil. Murders. A series of murders. Violence generally.’ Booze had unlocked my tongue to a degree that was shocking even to myself.
‘No. I don’t think so. She was the model. She’s loony. A victim of obsessive identification.’
‘Mixed up with all sorts of shit – murders, drugs, big-time crims.’
‘Love the title,’ he said.
I was boasting, expansive. Suddenly I wanted to talk to him all night, get his clean responses, have it all fixed in my head before I had to sing at Mainstreet. I –liked riding in the car as well. It was such a cone of silence after all the heaps I usually travelled in. The seat sat like silk, the windows were slightly tinted so that the world outside there in the sordid streets was irrelevant, not to be thought of. We hummed along in a scented closed capsule.
Riding along in the half-dark with the boy, so sympathetic, so openly admiring, made you wonder what it would be like to be one of his women – with the softness of them, so full of delights, decked out for their owner. To watch the world, through tinted windows, swim like a fish past sleek potted plants and musak and the plastic smell of the cage.
‘She’s way off the air,’ I said.
‘What are the police doing about it?’ he asked, his forehead painful.
‘I’m one of the suspects. Because I took the girl to hospital.’ I was slightly impatient. He wasn’t following quick enough for me.
‘Oh,’ he said, scared. He wasn’t looking at me any more, but he drove faster. What girl?’ he asked to soothe me.
‘A junkie who OD’d at Mainstreet. A young kid. It was heroin. We took her up to Casualty and the cops thought we’d done it. Or they were led to believe.’ I felt a grief in my heart when I mentioned Marianne. I could see a glimpse of Mainstreet in the dark as the huge car slid softly into the kerb.
‘Thanks for the lift,’ I said. There wasn’t much more I could say in the circumstances. As I went into the entrance I could see out of the corner of my eye the Mercedes pull crazily out of the kerb and bucket into the traffic – I could just see a blur of a white face before it was all gone. I allowed myself one small secret drunken smile before I pulled myself together. That was one buying fan down the drain. But when I walked up that old dungeon passage with the torn posters of past bands and the soggy feeling in the carpet, it wasn’t that funny. I suddenly felt really down. The place reeked of Marianne and her death. It hit me with a smack in the chest as I came in the door.
I’d known that Marianne dying had touched something in me I hadn’t felt for years, and that it was to do with reliving my own life as well as being moved by her. Something to do with an unloved child, the fear of a father hell-bent on dismemberment, the uncontrollable terror a small child feels when there is no one to trust – so huge that it never goes away but sits behind your eyes blocking out the light.
I knew she was me years ago, she had the same numb disregard for her own safety, the same desperate childishness under the sleaze. We were sisters under the skin. I wasn’t prepared for the intimacy of it, and the strength of the grief. With Nettie it was different, her death grew out of her life as the night the day, whole, finished. Marianne had been cut off before she even opened her eyes. Her death remained a warning to me, a reminder, a soft thud to the heart.
Walking into Mainstreet drunk, the impact was as fresh as when I first met her. I’d only known her for the last hours of her life, but I was intimate with all the odds and ends of her living and dying – her house, the face of her mother at the door, her father standing over me on the grass, her dying body as I hoisted it up the street. Clues to her miserable life, the only wisps left.
What I imagined though troubled me most. That picture of her last monstrous attendants in the death room shooting the smack into her tender arm. It was that old fear of mine that I was somehow to blame that still affected me, my connections with the tawdry people who fed her drugs and left her to die were so disturbingly close it still seemed more than a coincidence.
The letter of Roxy’s when she called me a spider stuck in my head and in my worst moments seemed to be the truth. If I allowed myself, I could see me, busy, busy spider, huge on the ceiling, dissolving victims with the poison I’d accumulated in a lifetime, acting out some insect urge, a death machine with no compunction. I knew I had to redress that, that Marianne was still there, distressed, waiting for me to avenge and release her.
I wasn’t sure what it was I had to do even, but I was in it whether I liked it or not, and her death was mine, justice for her was part of my bones. It made me realise that nothing had been finalised since the night she died, it was all up in limbo. Even the cops had temporarily drawn a blank.
Shorty came out of the box like a rocket when I was only half-way up the passage. He’d seen me stumble against the wall. He pounced on me, his skinny little hand scrabbling at my arm, his breath whisky-sour, spitting great gouts of saliva at my face in his honest indignation. He was shouting in my ear.
‘I’ve got something to tell you, Glory.’ He broke off into such a fit of extreme coughing it looked as if his face was inflated with bad air. It seemed impossible that human lungs could take such a bashing. I felt in all decency I should wait there till he recovered himself.
‘It was her,’ he croaked, scarlet in the face. ‘I reckon it was her, that mate of yours. You know your mate, the big good-looking one, you know the one with red hair? Her. Always hanging around waiting for you she is. I seen her. She was leading that kid up – you know when you was singing – she was leading her up and I swear by the bloody Bible, Glory, she was leading her up and muttering sort of. She was coming up the bloody passage her face pale as a ghost. Shaking her head. She gave me the fright of me life. Course I didn’t like to say nothink when youse come out together. She was like a spider with a fly and that’s a fact. I’ve spoken out, I’m not afraid to speak my mind – I told Bob, I told Dave. I said I’d go witness for Glory, no worries. Disgusting it was pulling you into scum like that. You’re rough and ready, Glor, none of us are going to deny that, we’d be stupid, but you’re not a scumbag like that sheila. Your mate. Roxy isn’t it? Scum of the earth she comes from. I seen her before. So what happened, Glory? With that girl you were taking up to the hospital? Dead, eh? See, I seen it in the papers. The boss was pissed off, but we know someone else done it. Drugs? Not our Glor I sez to him. You was up there singing. I said to Dave – that was no murderer. You ain’t into drugs and all that carry-on I said to Dave. You do your pictures and you’ve got your little kiddy to mind. That’s all I said. That’s no murderer. I told ’em.’ He started coughing horribly again. ‘Sit down, dear,’ he gasped out between spasms. ‘You look knackered. Bob isn’t even here yet. Come on sit down. Here, have this.’ He pressed some whisky on me, fussed around, trembling, old.
It was hard to know whether he really had seen Roxy take Marianne up or not. It sounded ghastly true.
‘I don’t know what you think, Glory, you’ve got your own ideas that’s for sure. But so have I’
‘You want to be witness?’ I asked. It was worth asking, though I knew from experience how hard it was to pin him down.
‘Sure, sure. Glad to. ‘Course I’ll have to get time off and that’s always ticklish. He’s that mean, that bastard, he’d charge his grandmother. You know what I mean? He knows where he is with me – I’d stick my fist down his froat soon as he looks at me if he oversteps the mark, you follow me? But you never know with him, he’s a moody bugger. Sometimes he’s right up your arse, then the next day he just doesn’t want to know. Treats you like shit paper. You know what I mean? I’ve got my job to think of.’ He paused majestic. ‘Then a course, Glory, there’s the cops. I don’t have nothing to do with them if I can help it. I’ve had some run-ins with the demons in my time. I can’t be too careful in my position. You got me?’
‘Yeah, Shorty.’ A subpoena was just as good as long as he didn’t shoot his mouth off. Shorty had a penchant for gossip, violence, the life he used to know anyway – and all this might go to his head, it was so long since he’d been anywhere near the centre of things.
‘See you want to watch out for them bastards. Look at the Arthur Allan Thomas case. I always reckoned that man was innocent. My mate, his brother-in-law, had the contract for the laundry and that out at Parry. He kept his ear to the ground, and the crims knew long before the bloody cops I can tell you. See they want someone, the cops, they’ll go for it. I said to Dave, someone wants her. Whether it’s cops or the other, they’re out to get you. You want to watch out for your back, Glory. Your ex-hubby was it? Hard to imagine you married, Glory, and with a husband. He sounded a bad lot anyway. You was right to get out of it with the kiddie being the way she is and everythink. You can’t be too careful. See they’re jealous. When I think of you being written up in the paper over your paintings that many times and your photo all nice. And now this.’ He shook his head overcome.
I said, ‘Be really careful, Shorty. They don’t like witnesses. Don’t go and shoot your mouth off, alright?’
‘Nah,’ he said. ‘What do you take me for?’ His eyes were shrewd as an old bird’s. ‘I’ll keep my nose out of it till I have to, you know what I mean?’
‘I’m just telling you. You’re in danger, seeing that.’
He put his finger beside his nose knowingly. I’d never seen anyone do that before.
‘I can look after myself. Anyone after me, they’ll get a bunch of fives and a swift kick up the arse before they know where they are. He, he, he. Right up the fundament. When I was working down the line down Taupo way and some bastards, Dallies they were, were trying to put one over me, see I was the champion then, just knocked out Woody Fellowes in Napier 1949 -‘
‘I know, Shorty, I know. Who’s Dave?’ I said, trying to change the subject. He never seemed to mind being interrupted, he was so used to it.
‘Me mate, me mate. He lives in the room with me. Sleeps in the day. In the boarding-house up the road. He comes down here of a night, for a bit of company. You’ve seen him. Old bugger he is with grey hair. Not like me. He, he, he.’ He took a great gulp of whisky.
‘I probably know. Can’t place him,’ I said. I had another pull myself. It was good whisky, quite pleasant as it tickled down the stomach. The whisky cleared the haze, softened the blows again.
Bob stuck his head in through the gap, blocking out the light. We both looked up in surprise.
‘Gidday. Who do we have here? Queen of the Underworld?’ He gave Shorty a brief considering look. ‘You lay off it, eh Shorty. I can smell the booze from the bloody door. You’ll be out on your ear. One of those bums sorting through the rubbish on Queen Street if you’re not careful.’ He winked at me.
‘Yes, mate,’ Shorty said flustered, his old hands shaking as he tried to hide the bottle. I gave him a squeeze and his little bones felt like a bundle of twigs, but he was too thrown to do anything back.
‘Thanks, Shorty,’ I said. ‘I’ll get in touch with you later.’ Bob gave me a look as if to say, Jeez, you’ve sunk, my dear, if you have any serious business with him.’ He was one of those private school kids who’ve taken a downward path because of some stampeding obsession which even high-up parents couldn’t cover up for. In Bob’s case it was young kids and cocaine. He told me once he was combining business with pleasure and starting up the first decent massage parlour for young gays, but it was probably only wishful thinking. Bob always seemed on top of things, as if everything was arranged for him personally, a hangover from his Kings College days. Talking to him I always had a distinct picture of some mysterious current of money and status and power running like an endless river above his head. It was as if it was all there on tap for him alone, and none of us groundlings would even get a drop.
‘Would you like to come into the office?’ I followed him into the room tucked under the stairs. It was more like a broom cupboard than an office, Shorty reckoned he’d seen Bob have it off with one of the young musos in there, but it was probably one of his hallucinations.
‘Don’t call me that,’ I said. ‘Queen of the Underworld.’
‘Just a joke, just a joke. I wouldn’t say that if I thought it now would I? I’m not exactly wet behind the ears. I’ve made enquiries. Strangely enough your activities have increased the take tonight.’ He leant back, his feet up. It occurred to me that for some bizarre reason he was trying to impress me.
‘Come on, what do you want?’
‘Now, Glory, I know you’ve sung here a fair while. On and off.’ He paused but I didn’t say anything. ‘You’ve chosen the wrong band. I’m not saying it’s you. Your band’s kaput, that’s what. It hasn’t been pulling the crowds. I know it’s a dead slot but that’s why we give it to new bands. Give them a chance to harden into something or crap out. Yours is crapping out. You’re not putting the work into it. The other night it was so loose you could have driven a bulldozer through it.’
‘What does the contract say?’ He silently pushed the paper towards me. I said, ‘OK.’ He’d obviously got it all worked out. It’s true we weren’t working. Bob knew his business quite well and he could pick it, the lack of real commitment. What with Cash’s criminal activities and my arrangements with the cops it wasn’t a going concern any more. My heart wasn’t in it, and even though I was only part-time lead it was my energy which kept people hopeful. There was nothing much to say to Bob so I got up and went out. Shorty was still hidden away in his box. I went up the stairs still feeling drunk with the whisky. It was already late but the tables were crowded, the big lazy fans spun the cigarette smoke in blue drifts up to the stage lights. People danced and drank and talked, a few people waved to me, very interested. Glory Day the drug queen, eh. I had another lurch about Marianne when I brushed past the seat she’d been sitting in.
A group of women were playing, copping the usual half-hearted flak from the audience, but they were good. I stood and listened to them for a while. They wrote their own lyrics – they had serious decadent faces with crewcuts, sparkly clothes, the white make-up on their skin making them look like pierrots. They looked tough, intelligent – their music was Grace Jones urban blight, almost plaintive. I’d never heard of them, but I recognised a couple of the women from the Gluepot and places like that. Grey Lynn guerrillas.
It made me feel nostalgic suddenly, being here at the old place. I’d been singing there off and on for years with different bands and different managers to earn a bit extra and because I enjoyed it. In my drunken haze it seemed a pleasant, almost sacred thing to do – singing to people. I’d heard somewhere that rock music has been seriously classed as a religion, with all its rituals, the frenzy and the love, and it seemed to me the best sort of religion you could follow. Music, spectacle and sexual grief, the releasing of love.
It was a real treat for me personally to get up there and belt it out after all the tortuous excesses of painting, the feeling of wanking in a closet you get after days of solitary hard brain-work. This was a clean thing – you stood up there and said, here I am, and then sang. A simple transaction or glitzy as you liked. And tonight of course there was Marianne, the need to make her death something more significant than another junkie dead. I went out backstage where the band was sitting around on the split plastic chairs, looking really down.
‘You’re the bloody culprit,’ said Simon, by way of greeting. There’s no doubt about it. Written up in the papers and all.’
‘Oh, come on. Go easy on her. She’s been having hassles of her own, man,’ said Cash in such a hypocritical tone that we all laughed.
‘That’s not what you were saying two minutes ago, Cash boy,’ said Jeff.
I sat down and rolled up a joint. The air was already thick with the fine stuffy smell. It was what I thought. Recently I hadn’t been turning up to rehearsals. Roxy, the exhibition, my preoccupations were killing us as a band. The publicity about the murder probably only attracted jerks anyway.
‘I did say I could only work part time,’ I said.
‘Yeah, sure you did, Glory, sure you did,’ Ross said hastily.
‘You’re not even rehearsing,’ Jeff said resentfully, accepting the joint. ‘What happened to you on Wednesday night? You’ve missed two fucking rehearsals.’
I tried for a moment to remember but .it was impossible. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
Simon looked over at me disbelievingly. They were all so taken aback no one said anything for a while.
‘We’ll have to talk about it,’ I said, aware I’d gone too far.
‘Well, fuck me,’ Simon said. ‘At least you apologised. I mean that’s something.’ There was a silence, not a happy one. ‘Things must be bad,’ he said after a while. ‘Are you OK? What’s the guts?’
‘What do you mean, Simon?’ I asked him, hard.
‘Look I just assumed you didn’t do it. I get all this crap from Cash about what’s going on. I’d just like to know. I’m your bloody friend aren’t I?’
‘It’s a long story,’ I said. ‘Cash knows more about it than I do.’
Cash said, ‘That’s a lie, Glory.’ He was genuinely outraged. ‘You don’t tell me nothing.’
The band out there finished their set, taking their gear off to the usual late night dribble of applause, a few catcalls, thin cheers from the real fans. They came in backstage.
‘What a fuck of an audience,’ one of them said. There was a smell of perfume and sweat. They looked like rangy animals as they lugged their gear off. Jeff gave one of them the joint which she took absent-mindedly.
‘You poor suckers on next? They’re into massacre tonight. Reckon they’re all here to see you. You’ve had some good publicity,’ nodding over to me.
‘Watch it,’ said Cash. He’d been caught out and he wanted to make amends.
She hadn’t meant to be insulting. ‘Watch it yourself, arsehole. I mean they want to see the real McCoy. That’s all. They’ve been reading about you.’ She spoke directly to me. She was sour about it, but not curious.
It was getting restless outside there, like a great beast waiting for its haunches of meat, still nice, but growling in anticipation. I wondered how Bob had billed it tonight. The bouncer was moving around a lot. I could hear him talking to people in that soft sinister undertone of his.
‘Who are you calling arsehole? said Cash half-heartedly. The women went down the back entrance hauling their gear. They didn’t give him any attention at all. It had been a long night for them.
When we went out ourselves, the audience was silent, the white blur of faces still round the tables. I could feel a great deal of interest in me, not nice. You couldn’t actually tell by the silence which way they’d jump. The muso had been right though, they were coming for a horror show, the rustle among the waiting bodies was sinister. They were watching me for a sign. Luckily I was drunk and stoned,, so as the band was setting up I did the best thing I could do in those difficult circumstances. I grabbed the mike and shouted,
‘Yes, roll up, roll up!’ My voice was thick with extra stimulants. ‘Roll up now, come and see the killer. I’m Glory Day and I’m out to get you!’ I hadn’t even planned it and I knew it was a gross and unforgivable act for someone like me, but I couldn’t stand the thrills they were get-ting from their secret perving. I wanted to bring it out in the open. There were some scattered cheers, a slight delighted recoil.
‘Did you do it, Glory?’ A brass-voiced punk, a real apocalypse kid with purple hair and a bare moon-face right in the front row. That’s why he’d come obviously. He wanted me to say yes, he hungered for heroes, poor little bastard.
‘No, mate. Sorry,’ I shouted back at him. There was a roar of delighted recognition from the crowd and from then on they were all ours. It was clean emotion at long last. It seemed like years since the night I sang with that child dying in front of me. I’d stored it up blind for a week almost unaware of my own fierce emotions about her. I needed to act out my grief, strutting and thundering over the stage like a make-believe rock star. Something tawdry and flashy to open up my heart. I wanted to tear the memory out, hold it up bleeding to the light, see it razor-sharp for the first time. I wanted to sing directly to her, beg her forgiveness and let her go.
Being here again had set off a shockwave of reaction in me, I wept, drunk on stage, pushing off the tears with my puffy hands. My throat creaked with the intensity of it, the band behind me, dazzled, playing willingly. I felt the tension in my spine lift, turn and go away as I sang. That night I had come backstage down-spirited, drunk, with no interest, and somehow miraculously this lack of desire had opened a channel in my throat.
It was easily the most successful set we’d played yet. I’d been smudged, muddied over by the wicked replay going on in my head, so the cheers of the kids listening to the music, my mates in the band, the tears, were a blessed release. We sang our hearts out, lost in the joy of it, and by the time I came off, sweating heavily, tears in my eyes, my throat almost burnt out, I was exultant. It was that orgasmic burn-out after a class performance.
We were all too whacked to talk coherently, but the four of us jostled around in the room, drinking and passing a joint, full of afterglow. We stayed there for what seemed ages, and then once the crowd had left we took the bottle out onto the stage, and sat together in the semi-darkness. Someone had turned off the fans and most of the lights, and it was a tepid, clinging, unhealthy darkness like being in a burial vault.
‘They loved us,’ Cash kept crowing. ‘Bob’ll be pissed off. He’ll be so pissed off. He’ll have to come begging on his hands and knees.’
‘Fuck Bob. We can go somewhere else,’ Jeff said. ‘That was class that set.’
‘Glory, you were so heavy,’ Cash said. ‘You were heavy, man.
We sat there in the dark, content, the whisky passing like a talisman between us. It set off everything else I’d been drinking all day, the beer with Moe, the wine, the whisky, the whole wreckage of my studio, the dope – and I started to get wonderful almost hallucinogenic flashes.
I thought of Marianne and Rina and my next idea, the great kites I was going to make – really monstrous ones with tails so highly decorated that they would be like trees or fiestas or masses of spring flowers flying up against the blue sky. As formal and stylised as Chinese kites, with rich, decadent plumage, birds of prey. Savage kites, big enough for a child to cling to and ride.