Full Circle

This is a piece of fiction that I have just submitted for my fiction assignment on the MA………..

Full Circle

Liverpool, 1986
Lulu heaved her bag onto her shoulder, and looked at the A-Z in her hand. It couldn’t be that hard to find. She hoped to God it wasn’t, in any case. The wind was more Siberia than Edge Hill. It had seemed like a good idea when she’d spoken to Mags that afternoon, before British Rail had conspired against her to make a half-hour journey into a three hour hell.

She walked along the main road, looking for Mags’ new des-res. Mags had already gushed about it at great length, fantastic house, wonderful and wacky housemates. She looked at the scrawled note in her hand, then at the spectacle before her. The grimy red-brick Victorian terrace did appear to be the right place, 58 Edge Hill Lane. Pity, it had sounded almost picturesque the way Mags had described it, but this grotty hulk with lorries thundering past a foot from the door must be Mags’ new abode.

She knocked at the door. Several times , before anybody heard her. Then, a thundering on the staircase, and the apparition of Mags’ lanky blonde form on the doorstep.

“Lou!!! You made it then! Come in, everyone’s dying to meet you”

Lulu struggled over the doorstep with her bag, and into the equally prepossessing hall. It was carpeted with that particular type of carpet that only student landlords appear to have access to, one of such hideousness that no-one sane would ever purchase it knowingly, yet frighteningly common in student houses the world over. The walls were a cream that had seen better days. It was warmer outside than in.

Mags led her down to the living room, covered with student posters.
“You have got to meet Jane and Vicky, I’ve told them so much about you!” She enthused.

Lulu winced. This was unfortunately the price to pay for being Mags’ oldest friend. Everyone knew every detail about her before they had even clapped eyes on her. Evidently, today was to be no exception. More so since they had split up to go to university, Lulu heading off to Manchester, Mags off to Liverpool, with Mal, the third member of the triumvirate, staying in London.

Two girls came out from the kitchen. They must be Jane and Vicky. Why had Mags chosen to do a degree in psychology? One was tall ,pale, mousy hair, jeans, spots, the other tall, dark hair, jeans, more spots. Jane (mousy, spots) and Vicky (dark, extra spots) gushed and giggled hellos, with the now-almost-obligatory “Ooh, isn’t she wacky!”

Lulu’s appearance was not exceptional on her History of Art degree, it was considered mundane and pedestrian. There were people stranger than her in every sense of the word. The guy who claimed that his hair had a separate personality had lasted a full year before anyone noticed and carted him off to the funny-farm. Mags’ scientist pals on the other hand, regarded her as a major curiosity. It made her feel like an exhibit at a Victorian freak-show, or a prize catch at the zoo.

The men were the worst. The ones with Leo Sayer perms, NHS specs, lab-rat skin and fashion sense that stopped when ‘Yes’ left the charts in 1973. Having (evidently) very little experience of the opposite sex, (or any sex), they seemed to take slightly odd clothes and a penchant for dyeing your hair as an outward manifestation of inner sexual deviance. After several lagers, Lulu almost believed her own explanations that she was a resting dominatrix and whip-mistress. It was just so enjoyable watching their milk-bottle bottom specs steam up at the thought.

So, another scintillating evening to look forward to. Tonight was Mags’ birthday, so even the excuse of Bubonic Plague wouldn’t have passed muster. They had spent every birthday together since the age of 11, from the jelly and ice-cream, through teenage snog-fests to ‘Echo Beach’, until now. Mal had managed to sneak out of it by being on some dubious field trip to the Ukraine. Even the Ukraine seemed a better prospect at this present moment. Probably warmer, anyhow.

Still giggling, Jane and Vicky announced that they were off to “get ready for the great night ahead!” Whenever these two spoke, it was in unison, with an implied exclamation mark at the end of each sentence. Finally Mags and Lulu headed up to get ready themselves. The gorgeous Mags slipped into a racy little red number, easy when you’re 5 feet ten, blonde, and built like a beanpole. Lulu wrestled with the crimpers and the make-up for an hour, finally ending up in a bizarre purple affair from Affleck’s Palace, finished off with fishnets and big boots. It would be fine as long as she didn’t stand next to Mags, but then that was the story of their friendship, the dwarf and the beanpole.

By the time they came down, the house was filling up, and Billy Bragg blasted from the stereo. Jane and Vicky were wearing exactly the same as before, just with blue eye-liner. Several beardy-weirdies were milling around with warm cider in plastic cups, discussing Dungeons and Dragons, still in anoraks. Mags suddenly dragged Lulu across the room, almost knocking her over.
“Lou,” she stammered “there’s someone I want you to meet. This is Fergus.”

At this point, the until-now-almost-passable guy turned round. From the back he had been promising, slightly long dark hair, the only pair of black unflared jeans in the room, black t-shirt. From the front, he appeared to hold the spot monopoly for the Liverpool metropolitan area, his hair looked like it had been dipped in olive oil, and his t-shirt revealed as having not only the red flag, but also ‘Up the Revolution’ on the front. And he was a foot shorter than Mags.

“Hiya” Lulu stammered “I’m Lulu.”
“Well hello,” he instantly smarmed back (who did he think he was, Kenneth Williams? Not with that Belfast accent). “Marguerite has told me so much about you.”
Lulu fought off the immediate urge to kill Mags when she saw the look in Mags’ eyes. She was obviously in love with this creep.
“Fergus has been telling me so much about politics, Lou, we’ve been on so many demos together, and he’s speaking at a meeting next week.” Mags simpered.
“Oh, yeah babe, I invited a few of the comrades down tonight, is that alright?” said the creep.

“Great, brilliant! Love to meet them all,” said the Midwich Cuckoo formerly known as her best friend. The old Mags would have lynched a lesser man for that. She had it badly. Lulu realized how many of the posters were pictures of Che Guevara, and pictures of Lenin (easy, same beard as her Dad).

Mags had no conception whatsoever of her own gorgeousness, and had a bizarre fascination for dwarves, obsessives, train spotters, and politicos. This one was no different, and obeyed several rules at once.. Lulu groaned inwardly, and prayed that Mags wouldn’t attempt to set up one of her disastrous double dates. She resolved to hide her gin, and retire to bed (or floor) as early as possible.

Just when it felt like it couldn’t get worse, it did. An hour later Lulu was wedged into a corner of the living room, now packed with members of the Revolutionary Communist Party (Edge Hill Branch), hearing Fergus auto-rant alternately about the oppression of the IRA by British fascist colonialists, and the self-oppression of women in wearing cosmetics and beauty products. All eyes swiveled to Lulu as if she were the living antichrist when he said this, but it didn’t stop him trying to fondle her breasts later when she tried to slip off to the loo. Most of them looked like they could do with a little soap, never mind the beauty products.

She had thought Fergus was bad until she met the rest of them, but by Revolutionary Communist standards he was a stunner, which explained his ‘God’s gift to women’, attitude. Even the inmates of the psychiatric ward where she had temped all summer looked normal, indeed fairly attractive, compared to this lot. A halitosis-ridden hobbit look-alike had tried to pin her in the doorway, asphyxiating her with his efforts to “find her stance on Nicaragua”. Lulu’s geography was hazy, but if that was where he was from, she hoped he was going back soon.

Someone had wrested her bottle of gin from her, going on about ‘all property is theft’. But when she reached the so-called drinks table a few minutes later, all that remained was a fluff-covered bottle of cherry brandy, and a selection of limp crisps in plastic bowls. She pinched the cherry brandy just in case. It was going to be a long night.

Lulu could take no more. On the pretext of going to the loo (again), neatly sidestepping another grope from Fergus on the way, she stationed herself at the top of the stairs. At least this way, she could just finish the cherry brandy, and then crawl to either bed or the toilet, whichever was necessary. She sat contemplating the carpet for about ten minutes, then decided that the carpet was more likely to make her sick than the brandy. After another desperate five minutes trying to find patterns in the anaglypta wallpaper, she suddenly heard a voice.

“Is anyone sitting here?”
She could hardly say yes, it was a staircase.
“Er, no, yes, no.” How to sound like a complete idiot in less than five words. She turned to look at the owner of the voice, and decided that cherry brandy must have hallucinatory qualities. He was about 6 feet tall, with dark (clean) hair, black (non-flared) jeans, and a nice smile.
“Mind if I sit here?”
“It’s a free staircase.”
“Oh I see, property is theft?”
“You’re not a Revol……” They both started before collapsing into giggles.
“Oh God no! Came up here to get away from them. I’m Nick Parillaud, by the way.”
“Lulu Raven.”
“So what the hell are you doing here then?”

Lulu explained her friendship with Mags, and Mags’ sudden lust-related ‘political awareness’. Nick explained that he was there with a friend who felt that he could get into girls’ knickers easier by being ‘politically committed’.
Nick suddenly pulled a bottle of Jack Daniels out of his pocket.
“Swap you?”
“Oh please, they stole my gin, this is like drinking cherry drops.”
“Aha, I was sneaky, I left a bottle of Thunderbird on the table, and kept this in my pocket!”

They chatted like old friends, establishing that they were studying the same thing, and that they had both traveled a little. Nick suddenly squinted at the murky fanlight over the front door.
“It’s snowing. Do you have a coat?”
“Upstairs, I’m staying here. But won’t they miss us?”
An out of tune chorus of ‘The Red Flag’ came belting up from the living room as if in response.
“Let me show you Liverpool.”

As they stepped out into the night, laughing at their escape, all around them was silence, the city suddenly muffled under a thick white blanket. The white snow, wheeling and eddying its way down from the black sky. The streets were eerily quiet as they walked into town. The only sound in the chill night air was their voices.

They reached the noiseless Mersey, the snow dropping mutely into the immensity of the darkened waters. The sky was a whirling bluish grey, with the black night sky beyond. Even the ferries were still. They talked on, about everything and anything, their voices seeming louder on the snow- shrouded docks.

They walked up to the deserted Anglican Cathedral, its’ spires and decorations frosted like a gargantuan wedding cake, dwarfed by its’ sheer bulk and size. The snow fell on their faces, melting slowly in teardrops. Lulu felt her make-up slide away with it, and the snowflakes nestling in her hair. Nick looked into her face as he talked to her, and gently brushed the snow from her hair. He held her hand firmly in his, and she felt somehow warm, safe, and special.

They skirted the Botanic Gardens, where he showed her the snow slowly melting on the enormous hothouses, and how it lay bizarrely in the spiky palm trees. Walking like dreamers out of time across the white lawns, finally they were standing in front of a terrace of Georgian stucco houses, with long sash windows reflecting the snowy park.
“What beautiful houses. Imagine that view in the morning.”
“This is my house. You don’t have to imagine it. I can walk you back to Marguerite’s if you like, or you can come in.”

Nick led her through the door with its delicate fanlight, up the curved wooden staircase, into a room. The room with the long sash windows overlooking the gardens. Everything was white, the lightly traced picture rails, fireplace, and the high ceilings. They could have been anywhere in time, the silent world outside seemed to make time stand still. The only light in the room was the bluish-white reflection from the snow-covered ground outside. There was a low table of dark wood, and he took the candelabra from the fireplace, placed it on the table, lit the red candles and the room filled with a warm glow.

Lulu sat on a crimson velvet chaise-longue, looking out over the snowy trees at the calmly falling snow. Nick left the room, taking off his coat, and returned with a bottle of wine, and two glasses. The wine was the same colour as the chaise-longue, deep and red. Nick came to her gently, took off her coat.
“You’re wet.”

He gently took off her clothes, piece by piece, one by one. The air was heavy with anticipation. He arranged her upon the chaise-longue, like an artist’s model.
“You are so beautiful, a symphony in black, red and white. Like an Ingres nude.”
Lulu’s hair had escaped its crimping, and flowed, long and black, down her back.
Nick approached her and kissed her tenderly on the lips.
“So beautiful.”

Then he picked her up, carried her gently to the bed in the corner, and tucked her in.
“Thank you.” He whispered, closing the door gently as he left the room.
In the morning, he brought her orange juice and croissants in bed, and walked her back to Marguerite’s house. They kissed on Mags’ doorstep, and she never saw him again.

London, 1996

Lulu woke from an awkward sleep. She could hear her mother bawling something up the stairs. Not a good place to wake up when you don’t want to talk to anyone. The last two weeks had been pure hell, this was going to be the culmination of it. Lulu instantly regretted the Jack Daniels consumed in the pub last night whilst trying to explain it all to her father.

She endured the family breakfast before her mother finally remembered to tell her what she had been attempting to shout to her.
“Mal rang, she’s going to be late.”
No news there then, that girl would be late for her own funeral. It struck home again. Funeral. How could she begin to explain to anyone except Mal what she felt at the moment?

Two weeks ago, life had been fairly normal. Lulu was in a relationship, with a steady job, relationship with (reasonably) functional adult of the opposite sex, nice house. Then the thunderbolt struck. She had been for her play rehearsal, and come home from the pub to find the telephone ringing. Martin had answered it. Then passed the phone to her, ashen.
“It’s your mother.” Lulu grimaced, then grabbed the phone.
“Hi Mum.”
“Are you sitting down?”
“Stop being so cryptic, has Nana died?” Lulu’s grandmother was 93, and purported to be on her last legs for at least 10 years, so this wouldn’t, in effect, be surprising news. There had to be some reason that her mother was ringing her at 11.30 at night. She normally believed that use of the phone was illegal after 8.30 pm.
“Are you sitting down?”
“Yes, oh for goodness’ sake, what is it?”
“I’ve got some bad news.”
“I gathered, what is it?”
“I don’t really know how to tell you- oh Lulu, Marguerite’s dead!”

Lulu couldn’t answer her mother. The eerie high-pitched wail she emitted brought the neighbours round immediately. Martin claimed that if she hadn’t been sitting on the floor, she would have fallen there. The next thing she did was run out of the house, which wasn’t as mad is it may have seemed, she needed to talk to someone who knew Mags, then and there. By a strange co-incidence, Mags’ most normal and long-term ex Jim happened to live at the bottom of the hill, of which Lulu lived at the top, in Hebden Bridge. Anybody else who knew Mags was at the end of the country, and it seemed so important. Jim’s brother Dan got the garbled explanation, told her Jim was away, and called Martin to come and get her.

It wasn’t until the next day that she had all the details, or could take them in. She had only seen Mags on Saturday night, on a flying visit to London. It was the kind of steamy late-August evening London was good at. She’d been sitting in the garden of a noisy pub on Upper Street drinking spritzers with Mags, Mal, Martin, and Peggy. They had been teasing each other about their love-lives and careers. Peggy was still a high-flying career nanny to the rich and famous, Mal, despite dropping out of uni, had a plum job at the British Council, and Lulu? Lulu was training dolies in the glamorous setting of downtown Rochdale. They’d come a long way from the giggly schoolgirls sharing one cappuccino between three on the Kings Road, smoking Gitanes and choking in an effort to look exotic. But Mags had just hit the jackpot. A brand new teaching job at Imperial College, and to top it all a free holiday in Malaysia, starting tomorrow.

Dickie, A rich but inbred friend of hers from Liverpool, had a job with a merchant bank, and was bored of his own company, so he was paying for her to fly out for a month. Lots of good-natured teasing followed, until Mags said that she had better be off, she had a flight to catch in the morning. Mal and Lulu stood at the gate of the pub, teasing her across the road about sunburn until the 30 bus arrived. Mags got on it, and….

That was the last time they would ever see her. There, stuck in time, aged 29, outside Islington Town Hall on a hot August night. Smiling, and teasing, and waving, and….

It happened on the Monday; Mags’ mother said when we finally got hold of her. Mags and Dickie decided to go jetskiing together. They hired the skis and were messing about on the bay. Someone tried to come between them, Dickie swerved to avoid Mags, and hit her jetski. It broke her neck. One minute laughing, the next, dead.

Nobody understood Lulu. Martin didn’t understand. Work definitely didn’t understand. Lulu spent most of the next week sitting at the top of her high terraced garden with a bottle of wine screaming “Why?” across the rooftops of Hebden to the valley below, as if someone somewhere could give her an answer. Martin gave up trying to understand. Lulu on the other hand understood that whatever she had had with Martin had been transient, if he could not understand this. It was all over. Lulu’s friendship with Mal and Mags was something special and inexplicable, a bond that could never be broken. All only children, theirs was a special sisterhood, a family of choice, one that had now so lightly been taken away. If Martin didn’t understand how precious it was, then he never had a hope in hell of understanding her.

There was no point in getting up. No point in taking the ridiculous antidepressants that Martin had forced her to go to the doctor’s and get. No point in work. She saw everything through black-tinted glasses. Nothing would ever be the same again. She traveled to London under her own black cloud, on the familiar 30 bus that took her past Mags’ house to her parents’.

Today was the funeral. Today Mal was back, and everything would be alright. Well, as alright as it was going to get.

Mal arrived, late as usual, and Lulu bundled her out of the door to avoid her mother’s wittering. She needed to talk to Mal.
“Whoa! Slow down girl, we’re not in a race you know.”
“Sorry, just had to get out of the house.”
“Eh, Lulu, I’ve just spotted something…”
“What?” Lulu turned to face Mal, and both of them burst into hysterical laughter. They were dressed exactly the same. Dark purple trouser suits and little black hats. Not just similar, the same, from the same shop. Lulu’s from Halifax, and Mal’s from Stoke Newington, but exactly the same. Positive and negative, Mal black, Lulu white.

They stood in the middle of Kingsland High Street, weeping and hugging each other.
“Oh bugger, you just spoiled my make-up!”
“Did you get flowers?”
“From around the corner, thought we could pick them up on the way to the station.”
“Me too.”
Cue more hysterical giggles when the flowers for Raven and Towers were identical bunches of white arum lilies.

At the train station, the comedy of errors began. One simple journey on the North London Line through to West Hampstead, not exactly rocket science. One line. Six stops.
“We regret to announce that the 12.38 Richmond train is delayed.”
“Too right, it starts at 1.45, and we’re still in Dalston.”

Twenty minutes later, the train deigned to show its face. After stopping and starting all the way through Highbury and Camden, it came to a juddering halt at Gospel Oak, finally giving up the ghost.
“This train terminates here.”
“No it bloody well doesn’t, we’ve got a funeral to go to!”

Mal and Lulu came running out of the station, two manic identically dressed twins wielding lilies with intent, panting along Hampstead High Street, desperately trying to flag down a black cab.

Mal finally getting to use the classic line
“West Hampstead Cemetery, as fast as you can!”

Lulu and Mal were puffing up the drive to the chapel when the cortege arrived. They hurried in, and Mags’ mum motioned them to sit with her. Then they couldn’t stop. The tears flowed freely, and they all held each other as though shipwrecked, crying a friend, a sister, a daughter. The burial was worse. It seemed immoral that something so awful could take place in the brilliant unrelenting sunshine. The weather was too nice to die. It was too much to see Mags, so full of life, sliding down into that dark hole forever with the lilies, while the sun glinted off the coffin lid.

The affair afterwards was a too-polite one. Tea and cakes at The University of London, where somebody gave a pompous eulogy to Mags that was totally unrecognizable to Mal and Lulu. It had been arranged by well-meaning colleagues when Mags’ mum couldn’t cope with it all. Mags had done her MSc here, and it was a tribute to the brilliant scientist and scholar, Marguerite Wharton. It was the witty friend Mags that Mal and Lulu wanted back.

There were lots of people they knew there; Jim the errant ex from Hebden, even Vicky and Jane, her flatmates from Liverpool, now lecturers at Liverpool, and people that they had never liked from school. Even grimy Fergus had shown up, though he had cleaned up a bit as the prospective New Labour candidate for Edge Hill.

Mal and Lulu were wondering what to do next. Joyce, Mags’ mum was in pieces, they couldn’t leave her to go back to her flat in Russell Square alone. People were fading away fast now. Vicky, who had taken a more decisive turn since Lulu had last seen her (and lost the spots), made the decision.
“Let’s go for a drink.”
They all felt they needed one. They knew where she would have wanted them to go, The Man in the Moon, her local, for one last one. Just the Hardcore left now, Mal, Lulu, Jim, Vicky, Jane, Mags’ mother. Lulu found a hand on her shoulder.

“How strange to meet you here, Miss Raven.”
She knew the voice. She also knew that it was impossible. Today had been impossible. Until, that was, she turned round to come face to face with Nick Parillaud. Still 6 feet tall, now impeccably clad in a black suit, still with a lovely smile.
“We were just going for a drink. Do you want to come?”
Nick explained that he had found out about the funeral too late, he had rushed down hoping to catch them.

The drink led to a surreal Chinese meal, everyone competing with the jolliest stories about Mags, but they all had a hollow ring to them now. The laughter had a bitter aftertaste. Everyone knew that in a way, this was the end. Vicky and Jane had to head to Euston for the last train. Mal and Jim, getting quite friendly now, took Mrs. Wharton home, tactfully leaving Nick and Lulu alone.

Lulu was burning with questions now. How had Nick found them? How had he met Mags again? What happened next?
Nick just put a finger on her lips.
“Shhhhh. All in time. Would you care for a walk, Miss Raven?”
The searing heat of the afternoon had now become a heavy, sultry evening, no breeze stirred the trees. The air was like warm treacle. It was after midnight, and Nick held her hand as they walked through the deserted squares of Bloomsbury. The sultry London air hung like a mist over the gardens. Everything seemed slowed, as though trapped in honey, or amber. No cars, no people, a Sunday silence reigned over the city, as they turned up Mount Pleasant.

Nick had met Mags again at a cheese and wine party for postgraduate students. When they had announced the names, he had realized that there weren’t many Marguerites around, and asked Mags if she had been at Liverpool. He had asked Mags about Lulu, but when Mags had said she was living with someone, he had stopped trying. He and Mags used to meet for coffee, go and see films, but there was never any spark between them.

“How could it not have happened? Mags was tall, she was blonde, she was beautiful- and I’m talking about her in the past tense.” Gulped Lulu.
Nick stopped, and bent down to Lulu. He took her face softly in his hands.
“But she wasn’t you. I lost you with your green eyes and beautiful skin. I had tried to track Mags down at Liverpool just to find you, but I didn’t know which course she was on, couldn’t remember where she lived. By the time I found the house again, it was full of Albanians who couldn’t speak enough English to tell me anything.”

Lulu was stunned. They carried on walking, and talking, up through the silent squares and streets towards the Angel. She wondered how anyone could bear so much joy and so much sorrow in one day. When she was with Nick, it was an experience out of time. Even here, now in the warm night of this darkened square, there was no-one there. It all had a magical quality to it, as though this night was there for them alone.

They walked across the empty, flower-filled square to a house that Lulu could have sworn was oddly familiar. It was a tall Georgian terraced house, with long sash windows overlooking the square. Lulu suddenly knew.
“This is your house”
Nick nodded, and took her hand. He led her through the door, along the passage where the delicate fanlight made shadow-patterns on the tiles, up the long curving staircase, and into a room.

The room was white, with high ceilings and a fireplace, and the long sash windows that looked over the night-scented gardens. There was the long low wooden table, and the crimson velvet chaise-longue. Nick took the candelabra, lit the candles, and the room filled with soft candle-light. He took Lulu’s hat, and began to take off her clothes, gently, wordlessly.

“You are so beautiful.” He said

Silently, she put her finger on his lips.
“Shhhh.” She said

She began to undress Nick softly, piece by piece, until they were both naked in the flickering light.
“You are so beautiful.” She said.
“Last time was too soon,” he said “it was too special a moment to be broken.”
“And now?”
“Now some kind of fate has given us the chance again”
They drew together then, knowing that this time, the moment would last outside time and forever, and that this time, they could never lose each other again.


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