I was famous, once. Not that you'd know it. I'm closer to fifty than forty, clumping around in Ugg-alike boots because they're comfy, hair cropped so short that if it weren't for my size and my rosy cheeks you'd think I was in chemo. Occasionally, someone in the supermarket will do a double take because they think they know me from somewhere. It generally turns out that they do. Maybe we did the same pottery class eight years ago, or their friend used to rent the flat upstairs. I grew up about as far from the sea as you can get and still be in England, but now I'm right on the edge, teetering on the Channel. I don't even get sick of the seagulls.
It's been long enough, now, that I'm surprised when I hear one of our songs. It never used to startle me, back in the days when I inhabited them, breathed them like air, but we are living in the future now and the kids in the charts weren't even born back then. Oh, sure, there was a brief revival about six years back, an upsurge of interest in electronica and the New Romantics, but we never really fitted into any of those boxes. Besides, trends move so quickly these days that you only have to blink and they're gone again. Or maybe it's just that time goes faster, the older you get.
I don't know anyone who listens to their own work for pleasure. It's like reading old diaries. Not that I ever bothered keeping a diary, but I can imagine what it would be like. The embarrassment, the shame, the endless, useless regret. If I hear our music now -- drifting out of a shop door, murmuring in the background at the doctor's surgery --- the main thing which strikes me is how tinny the production is, how raw my vocals are. I know that's partly what people loved about it at the time; but, seriously, why didn't anyone in the 80's understand bass?
Speaking of old diaries, I did a book about my rise to fame. Ghostwritten, of course, by a lovely woman named Gillian, who interviewed me in breaks between recording sessions for our second album, made my babblings readable and padded it out with clippings. The Oxfam bookshop in Brighton had a copy, last time I was in there, though I'd rather eat my own vomit than read it again. All that teenaged guff about hating my mum's boyfriend and being not-so-secretly obsessed with Christie and wanting a pet ocelot. Cringe.
But this is the story of how I stopped being famous.
Have you ever sat zazen? The first time I did, in Japan, it took me by surprise how difficult it was. The effort required in remaining motionless, the depth of concentration required by not thinking. To be aware of your legs stiffening, the pins and needles beginning to numb your feet, and not to react. Just to let it go.
I hadn't anticipated that stillness would be so hard. I only knew that I wanted it.
When I first joined the band, and Christie made me learn karate, it took a while for me to understand why. It wasn't just for the discipline, and it wasn't just for the aesthetic of the loose-flowing, androgynous clothes, though it was partly both those things. It was to show me how to command my own space, because I was a sixteen year old girl who had always taken up more room than the world wanted me to. He needed to rid me of my apologetic awkwardness if I was ever going to be what the band needed. If I was going to be Finch.
So I'd learned how to move. And now, at twenty, I wanted to learn how to be still. Christie had it. He could compel the attention of everyone in the room without moving a muscle. By not moving a muscle.
I didn't realise, then, that this was quite a different kind of stillness. What zazen asks of you is to be a stone in the stream, letting the thoughts flow over you and around you without ever sweeping you along in their wake. Even if sometimes the stream is a furious torrent, a cataract of suffering, your task is not to resist it, but to accept it and let it go.
Christie's stillness was simpler and more threatening than that. It was that of a cobra, poised to strike.
I don't know how any band survives a world tour. It started out great, fun, everybody still high on the adrenaline of releasing North Star, putting the show together, and hey, we were going to See The World! Except, and everyone knows this but somehow they always forget, you don't see the world at all. You see the tour bus. You see hotel rooms. You see backstage at arenas, all the utilitarian shabbiness of it, and you see swathes of faces, in the dark. Which is awe-inspiring the first time you step on stage and let the cheers unclench your stomach and allow you to think it's going to be OK, but by the tenth or thirteenth time you're in Groundhog Day. The same songs, the same costumes, the same exhaustion. Operating in a permanent state of jet lag, living on junk, saying to yourself no, you've got the rest of your life in which to see Toronto and right now the most important thing is to get a couple of hours more sleep.
I know, I know, you're rolling your eyes. Another spoiled celebrity whining about how hard it is being famous. I promise you I didn't complain at the time. I did whatever they asked of me and never once lost sight of how blindly, stupidly lucky I was not to be in the dole queue back in Birmingham. I lived in terror of laryngitis and gargled enough salt water to fill the Dead Sea, but when we got to Japan that was the least of my worries.
You have to understand that by that time the boys had been living in each others pockets for the best part of seven years, and none of them, apart from Rollo, were what you'd call easy. Dave especially was chafing underneath Christie's general control freakery, which he'd been willing to tolerate when it seemed to be getting us somewhere but, as he saw it, we'd got to our destination now and it was time to relax a little and smell the roses. Or snort the lines, as the case might be. All Christie wanted was to get the tour out of the way so we could get back in the studio and work on new material. He was incapable of resting on his laurels; perpetually dissatisified with what we'd accomplished so far, always striving for more, newer, better, best.
But Job had writer's block. This shouldn't have been an issue since he had enough songs in reserve for another ten albums, but his attitude was that if they hadn't been good enough to make it onto North Star they didn't deserve to be on the third album either. As for Rollo, he was really missing Louise, who he'd been with for six months when the tour started, and spent every spare minute on the phone with her. Dave nicknamed her Yoko. Nobody pretended to find this funny.
We were, as the cliche goes, big in Japan. I never understood why. Probably because we were a bit weird and didn't quite fit into any of the other boxes. You'd never get away with it now, going over there and swinging a nunchaku as part of your act, but nobody seemed offended at the time. They seemed amused, more than anything, by this big white girl prancing around dressed as a ninja. Indulgent, as you might be of a clueless but wellmeaning child. Which is basically what I was.
It's not an exaggeration to say that the band was my life, my work, my family. The past four years of my life had been Kelp. The thought that any of this might be in jeopardy was terrifying. I didn't care about the fame or the money. As far as I was concerned, we could go back to gigging at birthday parties and living over the shop tomorrow, as long as we were together.
I was frightened, and Christie was frightened, which made him tighten his grip, which pushed the others further away. I could see what was happening but there was nothing I could do. You couldn't push Christie without him pushing back, harder. That dynamic was what had always kept us going, but I was too afraid of losing him to push him now.
So here I was, crosslegged on a tatami mat, striving to be still. As if I were back in infant school, waiting for storytime. Once upon a time, there was a girl called Janis Mary…
The master didn't speak any English, so he had to come over and physically uncurl my fists, lay the palms out, open, to receive whatever enlightenment might fall upon me.
I still didn't feel anything except scared.
That was the night Dave went missing. Five minutes before the performance, and still no sign. Mae screaming down the phone, Rollo visibly sweating, fretting about whether he was all right, Job off in a corner trying to blot it all out. And Christie, hunched over a bottle of water, utterly silent, utterly furious, utterly still.
Then there was a flurry of security guards and up rocked Dave, clearly off his face, and Mae didn't even have time to hang up before Christie sprang to his feet, swift and merciless as a cat, and punched him smack in the nose.
By the time they'd cleaned him up and poured some coffee down his throat we were an hour late getting on stage, and I always felt guilty for letting down an audience which was too polite to boo.
Before I went to bed that night, I sat cross-legged on the floor of my hotel room and tried to think of nothing. But all I could see, over and over, was Christie's fist swinging through the air, and the blood.
The silence was the worst part. Everyone off in their separate corners, interacting as little as possible in order to preserve what little was left. Doped-up Dave sleeping off the previous night's bender, Rollo wittering away to a girl on the other side of the world, Job nursing a vodka and doodling in a notebook, pretending to work. Christie, glowering. Me, teaching myself to let it wash over me. I cultivated a fascination with clouds, watching them scud past the windows of buses and planes. A stone in the stream.
Christie had no truck with groupies or hangers-on. If he'd had his way everyone would have continued living like monks, married to the job. It would have been just us, that tight little nucleus of five, with Mae and the others orbiting like so many electrons. But when things explode, they explode, you know? There's the PA's and the PR guys and the press and the drivers and security and hair and makeup and engineers and roadies and and and… It's never just you. There were always people for Dave to party with, models for him to tumble out of nightclubs with… 'distractions', Christie called them, sneeringly. He never really understood that this was precisely why Dave had worked his guts out all those years, that this was his payoff. He never understood that Rollo was already sick of the craziness and had latched on to Louise as his route back to normality. He never understood that when Job accompanied Dave on his nocturnal jaunts, it wasn't to keep him in line but to hoover up whatever fragments of self-destruction he left in his wake.
Christie didn't understand people, not really. He just understood me.
Singapore. That was the night Dave didn't turn up at all. We put out a statement saying he had gastroenteritis and went on stage with a couple of session musicians filling in. And Christie was on fire that night, pouring all his rage into the songs, which meant I upped my game to match him… Or, at least, it felt like that. I've never heard a recording and I've always been too scared to seek one out in case it doesn't sound like I remember. We played Face It for the encore, as we always did, and my voice oh so nearly cracked right open on the last line, floating out across the stadium, over the flickering lighters
I came out of Birmingham with nothing
because it was our best gig in ages, but how could that be if Dave wasn't there, and a sudden conviction that it was all ending, that it was in some sense already over, but this was perfect, and it would never be this perfect again.
All of that in one line. It probably sounded like shit.
And then we were backstage and Christie was jumping around everywhere shouting and hugging everyone, and before I knew it his arms were around me (his arms were around me) 'What did I tell you, we don't need him, we nailed it, Finch, you nailed it!'
Like Jesus Christ to the fucking cross, I thought.
What he hadn't seen yet, and I had, was the police.
It turned out that the age of consent in Singapore was sixteen, same as at home, which was good news when it turned out that one of the models in the hotel room was a seventeen year old who'd followed us over from Japan.
With her dealer, which was less good news.
So now the paps joined the circus, and the journos, because obviously a rock star getting banged up in a Singapore jail was Big News, even if it was only one of the guys from Kelp who wasn't Christie Joyce. We were stuck in the hotel, besieged by the media. Manila was postponed, indefinitely. Mae was full-time lawyer-wrangling. Rollo trying to rally everyone back home to campaign for Dave's release, Job was sleeping a lot, I was still trying to meditate, frantically groping after tranquillity while Christie… I don't know what Christie was doing. I couldn't even bring myself to look at him. There would have been no more hiding from the fact that everything was falling apart. As expert as we were at circumnavigating the truth, letting it sit between us like an unexploded bomb, we couldn't lie. That wasn't how we worked.
It was a pressure cooker, and it was always going to blow.
You could have heard the yelling halfway down the corridor, even if the door to the suite hadn't been open. Job didn't lose his temper often but when he did it was nuclear. Who knows what had kick-started it that time. Probably the usual combination of boredom and minibars.
'You've been ripping me off for years, Christie. Making me slap your name on everything I do... They're my songs, mine, and I'm through with giving you the credit for them.'
'It's never been about credit,' said Christie calmly. Too calmly. 'But if you're greedy for royalties now, have at it. Maybe you'll finally be inspired to write something worth listening to.'
That had to sting, and from the way Job blinked I could see the barb had found its mark. Rollo, white-faced as a kid watching mummy and daddy rip each other to shreds, was just opening his mouth to say something conciliatory when Christie continued:
'For the record, though, yeah, I do think I deserve some credit. Where do you think you'd be without me? Playing muzak in a hotel lobby and drinking yourself to death. So go on, if that's what you want. Nobody's stopping you.'
It was Geoff the security guy who held Job back, and I was surprised to find myself screaming 'Stop it! Stop it, both of you!' Unexpectedly shrill, like every cliche of a girl trying to break up a fight ever. Leave it, Job, he ain't worth it. 'It's over, OK? We all know it. We're done. Stop making such a drama about it.' And I turned on my non-existent heel and stomped back to my room.
I thought the knock on my door, thirty minutes later, would be Mae, come to see if I was all right. Someone would always get dispatched to see if I was all right, and these days Mae usually volunteered, not out of any female fellow-feeling but because she wound me up the least.
It was Christie.
He pushed past me and sat himself down on my bed, without a word. Just stared at the swirls in the carpet, pink and blue, all mixed up together, the kind of vile that only hotel and airport carpets are because nobody could ever live with them for more than a few hours at a time.
I didn't want to speak first, but the silence was hammering on my eardrums and the colours of the carpet were threatening to blind me. I'd never been able to handle the silences. He knew I'd never been able to handle the silences.
'Well?' I barked.
He looked up at me. 'You're right,' he said. 'It's over. I just didn't want to admit it. I don't think any of us did.'
Hearing him say it like that, so final, I wanted to scream. I wanted to shake him, tell him not to be so stupid, hadn't he heard us at that last gig. Taunt him, tell him it wasn't like Christie Joyce to give up so easily, say he must be going soft in his old age. Except he wasn't giving up easily. It was written in every dishevelled strand of his hair, in the slump of his shoulders, in the dangerous shine of his eyes, how hard it was.
And I wanted to tell him. You're in my bones. You're in my blood. If it weren't for his ego, that dark rapacious monster which had never required feeding. I clenched my fist, silently, flexing my fingers. Part of me wanted to punch him. Part of me always did.
My heart leapt, like a salmon arching over a waterfall. Right before a grizzly bear slaps it down with its paw. Four years, struggling back to the spawning place, and all for nothing.
He looked about twelve years old. Lost. 'What am I going to do now?'
All I could do for him now was be the girl he'd dreamt me to be. I forced myself to shrug.
'I don't know about you.' The concentration required to keep my voice casual and cold, my tone steady. 'But I'm going to sing.'
I don't think Empty Hand would have been made if we hadn't had a five-album deal with Zombie and they hadn't been desperate to salvage something from the wreckage. It could have been a better album. It would have been a better album, if I'd had another three months or so to work on it, but Mae was dead set on releasing as soon as possible, to show that I was still in the game.
I was proud of it at the time. I poured my heart and soul into it, all the pent-up fear and emotion which had been percolating while I was in Kelp. Melody Maker called it a break-up album. I couldn't have put it better myself.
I worked with a bunch of different people to set my lyrics to music -- I have to give Zombie that, they threw everyone they had at it -- but, while they were all varying degrees of lovely and talented, I never sparked off any of them the way I had with the boys. We pared everything right back, recorded it in a little studio in Wales, and I sang like my heart was breaking; which it was, which it had.
Empty Hand, of course, is the literal translation of 'karate'. It's about putting away your weapons and relying on your own senses to guide you.
and now my heart is empty
and empty is my hand
so I lay down my weapons
and lay down in the sand
I made myself a Zen garden, in my London flat. A roasting tin, a couple of inches deep, filled with sand and a handful of pebbles. There was a bonsai too, a Japanese acer, worth a couple of hundred pounds. It was my last bit of luxury. That and the flat, of course. It was brand new, eleventh floor, overlooking the Thames. Mae had bought it for me offplan when we were still in America, and it was as bland and pristine as anything you'd see in a James Bond film, all done out in black and white with the occasional flash of chrome. A proper bachelor pad. I liked the sleekness of it, the lack of fuss. There was a piano, which I couldn't play but which helped fill the lounge, and moody black and white photos on the walls. I couldn't even have told you which city they were of, and I took them down after a couple of weeks.
The critics liked Empty Hand; that it was spare, that it was unfiltered, that it was all about breaking up and breaking down. But, in spite of the publicity team's best efforts, the public didn't want to know. I remember listening to it, alone in my flat, a couple of weeks after it came out. Listening to it the way Christie would have. Analysing it, finding the flaws, trying to figure out why it wasn't in the top 40.
And I realised that Christie was missing. Not from the lyrics, no. He permeated the lyrics, just as he'd done everything else for the past five years. Musically. My voice was lacking his counterpoint, that needling from the sidelines to anchor my vocal swoops back to earth, those occasional flashes of bright, hard chrome. It was all blood, no bone. All river, no stone. A mirror image of the way the band had needed my adolescent fire to spark their icy material into life.
So I had to try other lives on for size, like the girl in the Face It video, the girl who was and wasn't me. I wrote more songs, filler for other people's albums. I recorded a couple of duets but I was hardly in demand. Things had moved on. It was all about big saccharine movie ballads and soap stars making boppy bubblegum for the ten year olds. I went to Thailand for a year and lived in a nunnery. (I'd have preferred Japan, but the PRS payments were starting to dry up and Thailand was cheaper.) I commuted to Streatham for a bit and taught karate classes for Bernard when his hip started playing up. I tried to assemble a life from the fragments that were left.
Nobody was surprised when I moved in with another woman. Apart from me, that is. Kaz was kindhearted and hilarious, and made no secret of the fact that she'd worshipped me from afar when I was the teenage sensation du jour and she was a lonely lesbian sixth-former with no celebrity role-models to crush on, other than the girl who was and wasn't me.
I tried to love her. Oh, I did love her. She was kindhearted and hilarious and she'd loved me for ten years before she even met me. Maybe that was the problem. They always warn you not to date fans because no mere human could ever match up to the version of you that already lives in their head. However much I cared about her, it was never going to be enough. Ultimately, I'd been imprinted upon Christie Joyce since I was sixteen years old, like a stupid duckling which tumbles out of the egg and fixates upon the first thing it sees. And with a so-called stepfather who'd sold a story on me to the News of the World and a so-called father who then decided to sell his to the Sunday Mirror, I was always going to have trust issues. Kaz deserved more than that. Well, everyone does, but especially her.
(She's happy now, I think. I hope.)
When I turned thirty I seriously contemplated becoming a nun. People always think that sounds melodramatic, a reaction against the failure of my love life, but it was honestly nothing to do with that. It was about taking my Buddhism as far as it could go. I was planning another trip to Thailand, and then life intervened, as it does.
Christie was a terrible son, always had been, but he'd inadvertently done the right thing by putting Ida in sheltered accommodation. She loved it there. It wasn't one of those depressing places where everyone smells of wee and stares into space. They had coffee mornings, and bingo, and whenever I went to visit her, carrying my dutiful flowers and chocolates, they'd be planning some day trip or visitation from a local dignitary. She'd only been there about eighteen months and I thought she had years ahead of her, then my phone rang at about eleven o'clock one night.
It's strange how you can live alongside someone for weeks, months, years, and yet your stomach still lurches at the sound of their voice.
'Christie. Do you know what time it is?' I assumed he was calling from LA. His voice had that distant sound, the slight satellite delay.
'Mum's dead.' No preamble. No attempt to soften the blow. A hundred images flashed into my mind all at once. The last time I saw her, waving goodbye in the car park. A phone box and Mae's voice, telling me to come home because my mum had gone. The first time I saw Ida, slumped in her chair for hours on end. You're like a daughter.
Christie, like me, was an only child. It was a big part of why we were the way we were.
'Heart attack. More or less instant, by the sound of it. She wouldn't have suffered.' He paused. Across an ocean, across a continent, I heard him breathing. 'I'm flying back on Wednesday, to make the arrangements. Anyway, I thought you'd want to know. You were always kind to her.'
'She was always kind to me. I'm sorry, Christie. If there's anything I can do...'
Of course. He wouldn't have rung if there wasn't anything I could do. Phone calls, flowers, packing up her things. The little that was left. Three bags of clothes for Oxfam. Fake leather photo albums, seventies brown with gilding rubbed off the covers, pages and adhesive pages of a sulky little Christie wearing jumpers in varying degrees of terrible, shrouded behind cellophane. He doesn't know it, and it doesn't fit at all with my general minimalist philosophy, but I could never quite bring myself to throw them away. They still live on the top of my wardrobe, waiting for whoever comes to clear up after me.
I think Ida wanted what the fans wanted for us. Happy ever after and roses round the door. Grandchildren running round the lawn, maybe a labrador or two for good measure. Rollo and Louise's life, basically.
Not for us. Never for us. And I have never, even at my lowest, most deluded, sentimental moments, been sorry about that.
I didn't find out about Job on the phone. Mae came to the flat, bless her. I was still just about hanging on in yuppieland, but househunting in St Leonards so I could be nearer my Zen master Graham. To be honest, when she rang and said she was coming over I was preparing myself for something bad. Neither of us were ever into social calls.
She looked so frail in the hallway my first thought was that it was her health. Stanley was already gone, mentally if not physically; in hospital by then, blissfully unaware of everything that was going on.
The twentieth anniversary of Face It topping the charts had been and gone. Rollo had gone on Never Mind The Buzzcocks, to see whether Phill Jupitus could pick him out of a lineup even though he now had a beer gut and very little hair. (Rollo, that is. I think Phill Jupitus had hair.) Dave was, as far as I could gather from Facebook, still loved up with Megan in Australia and working out a lot. The last I'd heard of Job he was two years clean, living in Memphis, doing session work here and there. He'd even patched things up with Christie, who was still in LA, still producing. I'd have thought that California would be hell on earth for Christie but part of me, even after all this time, was glad of the distance. It was better for my equilibrium to keep half a planet between us.
'Tea? Coffee? It'll have to be black, I haven't had time to get to the shops.' I was as lousy at housekeeping as the day I first moved in.
Mae lowered herself onto the sofa, carefully, the way old people do. 'Just water, please. Bottled, if you've got it.'
'Tap it is, then' said Mae, resigned. I brought it to her in a pint glass. I had a set of Ikea tumblers but I also had an image to maintain.
She took a long swig and placed the glass on the coffee table. 'I had a call from Job's agent this morning. He passed away yesterday. I thought I should let you know in person.'
I looked down at the mug in my hand. Green tea in white china, honey-coloured, steaming. 'I thought he was clean,' I said.
'We all did. But you know how it is. It never really leaves you.' She retrieved a tissue from her handbag, blew her nose. 'I know I should go out there, but Stanley…'
'Nobody would expect you to. It's OK.' I sat down next to her and patted her awkwardly on the shoulder. 'Did you tell the boys?'
'I haven't called Dave yet. Rollo wanted to come over but I told him I wanted to speak to you first, get the flights sorted. Mike was going to let Christie know. I'll ring him in an hour or so. Bloody timezones, they complicate everything.'
My Japanese acer sat on the coffee table, next to the pint of water. Miniature. Perfect. I was shocked by how shocked I wasn't. This had always been coming. It had been coming for years. If it hadn't been Job it would have been Dave. We were in a business that kills people, we all knew that. You can't duck the fact it's a switchblade playground.
And Job had always had his demons, way before the drugs. It wasn't just being in the band that had destroyed his marriage. He'd never have been able to write Face It if he hadn't been a runaway too, seeking refuge in music and never quite finding it. Warning me that the music wasn't enough, that it would never be enough. Don't go dreaming of love or fame. He knew those things were poison.
I took a sip of tea, and it scalded my tongue.
I hate Walking In Memphis. Middle-aged middle-of-the-road dreck. But it got stuck in my head somewhere over the eastern seaboard and I couldn't get rid of it
touched down in the land of the Delta Blues
in the middle of the pouring rain
except the sun was blazing in what seemed to me a deeply disrespectful fashion, considering that we were going to a funeral. As soon as we got to the hotel, I begged a razor from Rollo and shaved my head. It was so hot. I thought maybe if I got rid of the hair it would cool my brain down and get the bloody song out of my skull.
walking in Memphis
but do I really feel the way I feel
When Christie saw my bald head, he smirked. I knew then that I had done it to comfort him. I wanted to reassure him by not trying to look good. It was supposed to signal that I didn't care about him. Which of course proved that I did.
I hated his ability to make me sixteen years old again.
'Hope you're in good voice, Finch,' was all he said. 'We're opening the wake with Face It tomorrow, and you know how hard that can be on the vocal cords. Especially in this heat.'
I stared at him in horror. 'We can't play. Not without Job there.'
'Oh, he'll be there all right. It's his masterpiece. It's what he'll be remembered for. '
There wasn't an answer to that, and if there was I was too strung-out to think of it.
I don't even know how long it was since I'd last sung in public. I still sang, of course; in the shower, cooking dinner, washing up. Doesn't everyone? I can't turn the radio on without trying to harmonise with whatever happens to be number one that week.
But I hadn't performed Face It since that night in Singapore; when it was perfect, when it was broken.
My throat was so clogged with unshed tears I didn't think anything would come out at all, but there's a kind of autopilot that kicks in when you've done something so many times that it's part of your soul. Your breath, your muscles move independently of you, along their own smooth, well-worn grooves. I felt like I was outside myself, a member of my own audience, watching a bald, sweaty has-been belt out the song that had made her, in memory of the man who had made it.
And I was watching Christie, watching the tears course down his face just as they had that first time we did Top of the Pops. Watching him so hard I didn't realise until the song was over that my own cheeks were wet.
Christie was where I knew he would be; in the corner, with his abstemious glass of water. I slid into the seat beside him, the walls beginning to swim around me. I can hold my drink fine, most of the time, but I'd been on the wagon for months on Graham's advice and I wasn't used to bourbon.
'So when did you stop drinking?' I nudged him in the ribs, too hard. He grimaced.
'When did you start?'
'Three hours ago? I dunno.' I let my head sink onto his shoulder, the way I only allowed myself to do when I was pissed, and as always he paid about as much attention as if a fly had landed on his lapel, too insignificant to be worth the trouble of brushing away. The world lurched. If I didn't stay still I'd end up puking. Imagine you're sitting zazen, I told myself. A stone in a stream.
'You should go to bed. I'm not going to be able to shift you if you pass out.'
Then maybe I should pass out. Crush you under the weight of me, once and for all, and then I can finally say I'm over you.
'Come on, I've never been a lightweight, have I?' I scoffed. 'It's just the jetlag.'
'Yeah, well, this shit would put anyone to sleep.' He nodded in the direction of the jam session still noodling away on the other side of the bar.
'Maybe you should get up and sing something, if you think you could do better.'
'Maybe you should.'
'And puke all over the floor? Same as I did at darling Chloe's birthday party? First gig, last gig. It'd be fitting.'
'Aren't you working on anything?'
The hint of accusation irritated me. 'Aren't you? As opposed to pressing buttons and making other people's stuff sound shiny?'
'You know there's more to it than that.'
'Is there, though?' I still had my head on his shoulder and we both knew I wasn't going to move before he did. We'd been staring each other down for half our lives, now.
It was a good thirty seconds before he spoke. 'I'm not creative, you know. I never was.' He spat the word out as if it tasted sour. 'If I could have done Kelp alone, I would. You think I liked having to outsource it to the rest of you? It was like herding cats.'
'Feral cats.' I said, warming to this analogy. 'Like you always said. We're not a tame band.''
'Exactly. I used to wish I could do what Job does. Did. But then it wouldn't have been what it was. It wouldn't have been Kelp.' He picked up his glass and took a sip. 'Point is, I do what I can. What I'm good at. And yeah, it's not mine, but it's as much mine as I can make it.'
Like me? I wanted to say. As much yours as you could make me, without actually wanting me? I pressed my palm into the sweaty vinyl of the banquette, as if it might anchor me. As if there could ever be a time or place where I could say those things. As if they ever needed to be said. As if, after all these years, there was anything we didn't already know about each other.
Love is such a small, soft, silly word, yet we expect it to contain multitudes. Everything from ice cream to motherhood. The way you can hold a universe in an empty hand.
My mouth was suddenly dry, and I reached over to steal a gulp of Christie's water. Naturally it turned out to be vodka, and five minutes later I duly threw up. First gig, last gig. It was fitting.
A few years back Dave's people got in touch to talk about a reunion, but that was never going to fly. I get that he needed the money -- we all need the money -- but somehow I didn't fancy becoming my own tribute act, swinging my nunchaku for the ironic amusement of freshers at university balls.
It wouldn't have been what it was. It wouldn't have been Kelp.
So I teach meditation; the mindfulness craze keeps me busy. I tend herbs in pots on my patio. I try, at intervals, to teach myself the guitar. Lucy -- Rollo and Lou's youngest -- crashes here if she's revising for exams or has boy trouble to escape. I am... whatever the opposite of a fairy godmother is. An ogre godmother, doling out cocoa and quietness rather than princes and party dresses. I slay at karaoke. The kids in the pub always say to me, oh Jan, you should go on the X Factor, and I just smile. Been there, done that.
And Christie, half a world away, will email me clips of whatever he's working on. Get the high D at 1:07. Goosebumps.
And I listen to the sound of one hand clapping.