"It's me. Right, my flight landed early, so, well. I'm here. Yep. Uh huh. Right, see you then. What? I can't really hear-- oh. I love you, too. All right. Yes, I'm excited to see you, but I just got off a bloody plane, I'm sorry I don't sound overly enthusiastic. Yeh. Okay then. ...I love you, too."

I hung the phone up and looked round for a smoking area. Not much to do but smoke at Heathrow Airport when you've got your luggage picked up and you're waiting for your ride. I followed the arrows on the signs, noting again just how British everyone looked. I want to say "how ugly everyone looked", but there's a certain charm to us (sorry to sound arrogant for a minute, here) that is completely lacking in America. The overly-stereotyped bad teeth (they aren't that bad, but, you know, they're not that great), the pasty skin, the pink cheeks and world-weary demeanour, you know? Americans are stunning for the most part, but there's this cookie cutter quality to them. You snog one American bird, you've snogged them all, know what I mean? They're gorgeous, though. Very gorgeous, really.

I retrieved a dodgy pack of Camels from my backpack and settled down to wait inside the plastic-walled smoking area. Cancer heaven, really, smoking areas. You don't even need to light up to get more than your fair share of nicotine. Regardless, I'm a Londoner, so I did light up, and inhaled victoriously. Another thing about Americans is their intolerance for smokers. Talk about culture shock, eh? All this healthy lifestyle wankery, their yoga and pilates and sushi, such bollocks.

Five cigarettes later, I headed towards the exit to wait for Ashley. I made further use of the waiting period by pushing the time on my watch five hours ahead and buying a pack of Polos from the vending machine. I accidentally bit my tongue when I saw her car, in my rush to get my bags in order.

"I can't kiss you yet, my tongue's bleeding," I warned her, pulling her into my arms. She looked lovely. Her hair was shorter and blonder, and she'd done something different with her make-up, but she was still the girl who used to surprise me with Indian takeaway when I was bogged down with schoolwork.

"Flynn, don't be a cunt," she said simply, and kissed me in that Ashley way of hers, little pecks making way into full-on tongue action. It suddenly struck me that I'd missed her very much.


"My sister's living with me now," she told me, head thrown back, eyes squinting in concentration. She always refused to wear glasses or contacts, which made her something of a danger on the road. "So you can't spend the night anymore, unless you take the sofa."

"Your half-sister?" I replied, half asleep. The English countryside zoomed past, a refreshingly familiar sight.

"Yes. My only sister." Ashley gave me a look. I shrugged. "Her mum topped herself, don't you remember?"

"Oh. Right. Shame, that." I thought it was a suitable reply, but I must have thought wrong. It was greeted with a heavy sigh.

"You're a twat, but I missed you, you know," she said, turning her eyes from the road to study me.

"I. Missed. You." I lunged at her neck and covered it in kisses, pleased that I managed to make her swerve off the road and squeal like a teenager.


I threw my luggage down on her bedroom floor and immediately fell on to her bed, somewhat perturbed that the typical long-distance relationship (hereto referred to as LDR) reunion sex drive hadn't kicked in yet. Normally, I'd be gagging for it, all over her like an octopus as soon as I'd tossed my boarding passes in the rubbish, but I hadn't felt even the slightest stirrings of lust, and this was highly disconcerting.

"Are you hungry, love?" Ashley called from her cramped kitchen. We used to cook pasta there, usually stoned, and eat it in front of the television. Top of The Pops, normally.

"You got any Pot Noodles?" I tried thinking of Gwen Stefani. Nothing.

"Bless you, is that all you eat at uni? Chicken & Mushroom all right?"

"That's fine." Winona Ryder wasn't doing it either. I blamed jetlag.

"Some juice?"

"Fine." I blamed the little bottles of British Airways vodka.

When Ashley came in with the noodles, I'd been filing through my memory catalogue. My sex life had flashed before my eyes, and this had never once occured before. I looked up to see her studying me.

"So, how's the band doing?"

I began running my (noodle-filled) mouth as I told her about Rick, and Travis, and Rob, who'd just replaced Alan, when Ash started doing that thing where she sort of nibbled my earlobe while going "uh huh" every now and then in my ear. I was still talking, but she was making it difficult.

This was bloody nice, in fact. So much that I stopped talking and worrying and realized that while Winona and nostalgia had failed me at a crucial moment, Ashley hadn't, and it was nice, lovely, honestly, that a girl you loved could do this.


Fuck it, I'll own up. I spoke too soon. And that wasn't the only thing I'd done too soon.

"You know those little bottles of vodka? The airplane ones?"

"It's all right, Flynn, really," Ashley said, giving me a kiss and putting her bra and pants back on.

"And also, you know, I'd be in bed right now, in the States," I continued. "Asleep. It's like seven in the morning there."

"Flynn, please, do shut up." She threw herself at me, pinning me down by the wrists and biting the tip of my nose, the bitch.


"Ashley, do we have any Jaffa Cakes left?"

I stifled a quite unmasculine laugh. Ashley's little half-sister had marched purposefully into the living room, and she was, for lack of better words, a character. She was wearing (what I assume was) some of Ashley's lipstick and fake Hollywood starlet eyelashes.

"Nope, I finished them last week." She darted a glance at me. "I was PMSing."

Why do women feel the need to share these things with men? The world may never know. "Well done," I said, for lack of a better response.

The little girl bit her lip and looked frustrated. Her eyes came to rest on me and raised an eyebrow. "Is that him?" she demanded.

"Don't be smart. Zac, this is my boyfriend, Flynn."

"The one with the band?"

"Right. Flynn, this is Zac, my little sister."

"Half-sister," she added. "I like your music."

I blinked. She brushed her fringe out of her eyes impatiently, waiting for an answer. "Thanks," I attempted. "I didn't realize Ash had shown you."

"Oh, she never stops bloody talking about you," she said flippantly, striding back to her room and slamming the door. For the first time, I noticed the Pulp Fiction poster on it. Ashley gestured at it, rolling her eyes fondly. She leaned over, far over, for the remote.

"Apparently, she and her cousin saw the film, and she's wanted to be Uma ever since."

"Cute," I noted, staring distractedly at her figure. She pulled back up, and caught me looking.

"Remember those pictures you took of me at school?" Ash’s eyes were dark, communicating that same message that I'd never been able to understand, not since I met her. That indecipherable message was probably to blame for every single falling out, every time we split up.

"Yeh?" What on earth was she talking about?

"I've still got 'em. And I've still got the outfit."

In a flash, I remembered the day we'd cut out of class to get fish and chips, a day which had ended up with us pissed and a little stoned in Staines, and furthermore, a day which had led to my one and only venture as an erotic photographer.

"Ah. Well," I went, experimentally. She smiled, slowly, and I let her take my hand and lead me to her bedroom.


A few days later, it was Hallowe'en. It was all right, except for the break-up. A few friends from school invited us to a fancy dress party, and we went as Madonna (circa 1980s) and Adam Ant in his dandy highway man get-up. My make-up looked better than hers, I'm pleased to report.

"All right, Ashley? Hello, Flynn, it’s been ages,” smirked this bloke we used to buy weed from.

"I heard your band, it's fuckin' bollocks,” laughed an ex-girlfriend. “Where can I buy the record?"

"I'm trying to decide who looks like the bigger tart, you or Ashley," said the class clown, now a law student at Edinburgh. "How's Am-er-ee-kah treatin' ya, mate? You’re finally able to drink there legally, well done!”

It was wicked, being back home. I felt like a victorious warrior or a Beatle or something. I kept my arm tightly around Ashley's shoulder.

"I am too allowed to drink, Mum used to let me help myself to her wine collection."

"Zac, don't fib, your mother wasn't posh enough for a wine collection." Ashley tossed an irritated glance over her shoulder. Ash's dad had decided going to a party, having a social life in Windsor, would be good for little Zac. I don't think he quite realized the kind of parties eleven-year-olds were supposed to frequent.

"So what are kids like you into, Zac, the Teletubbies? Bananas in Pyjamas?"

Zac looked bored. She fluffed her Uma bangs and kicked her shoes off into a closet. "I mainline heroin and fuck people for twenty quid, Flynn, what about yourself?"

She'd got me, so I ignored her and nuzzled my head into Ashley's shoulder. "We should go and find something decent in their record collection, I can't take this garage shit."

"Daniel!" she screamed, which I found a rather odd reply, unless she meant the Elton John song, which would also have struck me as an inappropriate reply. I followed her line of sight, and my blood chilled.

"Ah. Daniel," I said, standing up and staring him dead-on. Zac sat beside Ashley on the couch, smirking with amusement.

"Hello, Flynn! Hello, Ashley!" He turned to me jovially. I wanted to rip the Nine Inch Nails T-shirt off his patronizing shoulders. "I thought you were off in the States, bein' a rocker." He took a swig of cider.

"Yes, I am. It's tough, being away from Ashley, but oh well." I made one of those gestures, you know, a universal 'I'll be back once I get more beer' gesture, and swung an arm over Ashley's shoulders, but she shook me off.

"You're writing a book, is that right?" she cooed. Yes, she fucking cooed.

"About AIDS," Daniel said darkly, casting his gaze downwards. "And, right, I know, I haven’t got it, of course, but there are just so many sufferers out there... I wanted to spread the message. I wanted to, how should I put it, make it real to people?"

"Ash, let's go look for Tom's record collection, come on."

"Flynn, I am talking to Daniel." Her Madonna make-up served to enforce her aggravation. I gave up, swiped a Stella from the refrigerator, and went to look through Tom's music myself. I was wondering to myself whether I could ever forgive him for owning Dolly Parton on vinyl, when I heard a light tap on the bedroom door.

“So, who inspires your shit?” Zac was nursing what looked like a screwdriver, but could have just been orange juice.

“You have a foul mouth for such a little brat, you know that?”

“That’s what happens when your mum offs herself. You develop all sorts of bad fucking habits.”

I eyed her with a mixture of guilt and impatience. Yes, right, boo hoo, her mother had killed herself. On the other hand, she was a complete pain in the arse.

“I’m a fan of The Who,” I said, shuffling through Tom’s collection. “The Kinks. The other guys, though, they’re into shit like Saves The Day and all that.”

“Fair play,” Zac said, still at the door, her eyes on the party. “You know, you’d think my sister would want to come up for air once in a while.”

“What’s this, then?”

“That Daniel twat’s got his tongue so far down her throat she prob’ly needs an inhaler.”

How bloody predictable. I threw aside a Boyzone album and stormed back into the living room. While Ashley wasn’t lip-locked with Daniel, as Zac had implied, they were getting a little too touchy-feely for my tastes.

“Oi, Ashley, come on, let’s go, this party’s shit.”

“Loosen up, mate, we’re just talking about school.”

I feigned ignorance. “Oh, right, and what part were you talking about, uh, Daniel? The part where you slept with Ash on my birthday, while I was covered in sick in the toilet? Or how about the part where--”

“Flynn, christ, what are you bloody doing?”

“Ancient history, bruv,” Daniel stated easily. “I wasn’t trying to pull, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m here with Linda.”

“Ash, come on, I’ve got an early start tomorrow anyway,” I tried.

“For fuck’s sake, it’s only eight. You can go ahead and bugger off home, but I’m not leaving just because--”

“Just because what, exactly, Ashley? Because I don’t want to watch you and Daniel--” I trailed off. Just because Daniel was having a perfectly innocuous conversation with my girlfriend, and I couldn’t let go of a five year grudge? I certainly wouldn’t admit to that! “Because you’re acting like a fucking whore!”

To cut a long story short, Ashley refused to leave with me, and I didn’t want to stick around, so I called for a taxi and smoked and drank outside the flat for about forty five minutes, until the cab showed.

“Ash said to go home with you,” Zac said. Her face was flushed and her eye make-up was running.

“Oh, I’m going back to yours, am I?”

“S’pose. Where else would you go?”

Good question. My mum had moved to London, and I wasn’t in the mood to take a train at this hour. Or pay the exorbitant cab fare to get there, for that matter.


“Though Ash did tell me to tell you that you were to be gone from the house by tomorrow morning.”

“Ah, brilliant.”

“That was the plan anyway, though, innit?” Zac looked suspiciously close to vomiting, so I edged away from her and settled back into my seat.

“Is this your little sister?” said the cabbie in a polished English tone, designed to disguise the fact that he was most likely an illegal immigrant.

“Fuck no,” I said vehemently. “I wouldn’t let my sister out of the house looking like that.”

Zac didn’t take offense. She was, in fact, suddenly looking very much under the weather. She rested her head on my shoulder and moaned quietly.

“She going to be all right? Do you need me to stop somewhere?” asked the cabbie.

“Nah, mate,” I said, resigned. I held on to Zac’s shoulder firmly, keeping her upright and talking to her so she‘d stay awake, and I even rolled down the window for her when she had to puke. When we got back to hers, I carried her in and even tucked her in bed. To tell you the truth, it almost made me wish I had a younger sibling, because there was a good degree of gratification in playing the role of big brother. As for me, I watched television in the living room until Ashley came home and broke up with me for the twenty-seventh time.


“Does everybody really drive on the wrong side of the road?”

Three years later, give or take a few months, my band-mate Rob stared out the airplane window with complete fascination as the pilot announced our landing at Gatwick airport.

“It’s not the wrong side,” I said simply, downing the last of my gin and tonic and unbuttoning my seatbelt (before the seatbelt sign had switched off, let me tell you, I am truly rebellious). “Come on, get your stuff together or you’ll be hours in immigration.”

I like Rob. Rob’s Canadian, very much so, and alarmingly good-looking. We call him The Bait; we’d take him with us to bars and clubs out in the States, and because he sort of looks like that bloke, the film actor, you know, wotshisname, all the girls would flock to us. And the funny part is, Rob’s the worst flirt in the history of failed Lotharios, so the rest of us would always end up going home with somebody, but Rob always wound up alone. He’s too-- well--

“‘Those comfortably padded lunatic asylums which are known, euphemistically, as the stately homes of England.’” Rob zipped up his travel-on case and looked at me seriously. “Virginia Woolf.”

--too innocent.

“That quotation shit isn’t going to get you a shag, Rob, honestly. Do get a move on.”


“We’ll have two more pints of Strongbow and some of those prawn cocktail crisps.”

I carried the goods back to our table. We were at Haha’s bar, surrounded by the young professionals and underage slappers in short skirts and high heels. It was a Saturday, and closing time was approaching, so everyone had that hungry look on their faces, the blokes eyeing up the women, the girls hitching up their skirts to show off more skin.

“‘We are all of us living in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’”

I shot Rob a withering glance. “Fuck off.”

“Oscar Wilde,” he slurred.

“Can we please just come up with a set list?”

Rob and I were here on tour. The rest of the band and entourage would be flying out the next day. Unsurprisingly enough, I’d failed out of university, preferring to dick around on my guitar than attend classes. The real shocker was the fact that, once I had time to devote myself entirely to my music, the band became something of an underground sensation in our area. The split-up with Ashley inspired me to write this song, “Home For The Holidays”, which got a decent amount of radio play, and the gigs just started coming in. In fact, things were going so well for us that Rick and Travis, the other two blokes in the band, followed my lead and dropped out as well.

So we wrote up an hour-long set, with a couple of Britain-friendly cover songs in there. ‘Fairytale of New York’, for one, and a bit of Madness. We were in the middle of debating whether or not we should throw in an “ironic” cover of Dashboard Confessional, when Rob looked over my shoulder, then at me and raised his eyebrows.


I turned ungracefully in my seat and stared blankly at the bird who‘d said my name.

“Yeh?” I couldn’t place her for the life of me. She looked about sixteen or seventeen, nice little body and great big blue eyes, but fairly young. Young enough so that I felt pervy for staring at her tits, anyway.

“It’s me. Zac. ‘Member? Ashley’s sister?”

I nearly fell out of my chair.

“Well, fuck.”


“Yeh, it’s shit being fourteen here, you’ve really got to dress like a slag if you want to get into fuckin’ Wetherspoon’s, even, but there it is.” Zac drained the rest of her Bacardi Breezer.

“‘A person's maturity consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play,’” interjected Rob. “Aristotle.”

“What?” Zac seemed bewildered by this. Or just drunk. She lit up a cigarette and looked to me for translation.

“Ignore him, he’s a tosser,” I sighed. “Philosophy major.”

“No, it’s psychology now,” Rob proclaimed, then hiccupped.

A silence descended on the table. I looked over our set list, not entirely sure why I felt unsettled by Zac‘s presence. She just took a couple of slow drags on her fag, and Rob studiously examined the quote on his cardboard beer coaster.

“How’s Ashley doing?” Fuck it, you know? I figured I had nothing to lose by bringing her up.

“Not too bad,” Zac shrugged, glancing around the bar idly. “She’s with that Daniel bloke. They’ve been together for a few months now. I can’t stand him, he’s a pretentious bastard.”

The news didn’t bother me as much as it should have. I knew Ashley and Daniel wouldn’t really last, to be honest. Daniel had the smarmy good looks of a quiz show presenter, all gelled hair and shiny fabrics, and as Zac had mentioned, he was a total poseur, and narcissistic to boot. Ash was too good for him, and deep down inside, she had to know it.

“Why’d your parents name you after a boy?” Rob nodded at Zac and rested his head in his hands, looking a little worse for wear at this point.

“They didn’t. It’s short for Prozac.”

“Ha ha.” I stuck a handful of crisps in my mouth.

“No, really, I’m not joking. My name was Beth until I was four, and then me mum had it legally changed. She said that if it wasn’t for, ya know, happy pills, she never would’ve been around to watch me grow up, right? She used to say she would have been dead for ages.”

Rob and I let this sink in for a moment.

“But she wasn’t really around to watch you grow up, was she?” Note: when I went over this conversation the next day, I cringed at my audacity here. What a right prickish thing to say, but there it is.

To her credit, Zac didn’t seem fazed. She just smiled at me, and it was the first time I noticed any resemblance to Ashley. Her eyes kind of crinkled in the same way.

“You know, you should give me your e-mail address. I have ‘Home For The Holidays’ downloaded on my computer. It‘s well wicked.”

Rob perked up immediately. “What did you think of the bass line?”

“It’s a solid tune, through and through. You guys need a new web site, though, the design is shit.” She paused, stubbing out her cigarette vehemently. “I could redo it for you.” Another pause. “I don’t understand why Ash doesn’t like your music, you know? You guys have something really fucking tight.”

“Wait, what?” This was certainly news to me. “Ashley couldn’t have said that. I thought--”

Pushing her chair back, Zac stood up, slapping her pack of fags against the palm of her hand distractedly. “I’ll be right back, you two, I want another Breezer.”

Rob was blinking at me. He looked rather like a fish.

“She’s just a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl talking bollocks. Of course Ash likes our stuff,” I said, and leaned back wearily. “She’s just some kid.” And yet, I watched Zac make her way through the crowded bar, too-big vinyl platform shoes flopping on liquor-stained wood, and I felt every one of my twenty five years weigh down on me, and I didn’t like it, not one bloody bit.

As I watched my ex-girlfriend’s smile light up the face of the strange little girl-woman at the bar making a coquettish pass at one of younger bartenders, I thought of Ash again. It suddenly struck me that I missed her.

“‘He who is not contented with what he has, will not be contented with what he doesn't have.’”

Zac turned, elbows up on the bar, and winked at me, too much cheek rouge and lipstick and button-nose and age-inappropriate cleavage.


Yeah. I missed Ashley very much.

“Shut the fuck up, you prick.”


The plane hurtled downwards, and Ioana realized that it might be a good idea to buckle her seatbelt. The older Spaniard next to her took a tentative sip from the flask in his hand, moving in slow motion, his nose wrinkling and his mouth twisting, enjoying the strength of good scotch. The screaming and the laughter in the background took on an ambient quality as she turned to the Spaniard.

"I love you," she said, her words being stolen from her throat, pulled from her lips. They sounded musical around her tongue.

"Yes. We must tell somebody we love them in these last few moments," he said, his accent both soothing and energizing her. "I love you, mi amor, te quiero, te quiero."

She rested her head on his shoulder and took a deep breath as she dared to sneak a glance out the window. All was dark outside, but she could see her reflection. She would expire with undyed black roots, untweezed eyebrows, mascara smudges under her eyes. It somehow no longer mattered.

The Spaniard curled his fingers over hers and she looked to him gratefully. His eyes were so kind, the wrinkles around them distinguished, his five o'clock shadow endearing. Ioana thought briefly of the boy she'd broken up with over Chinese take-out and Sex and The City, and allowed herself a nostalgic smile as her heart skipped a familiar beat. She'd been thinking about calling him, and now she never would. The finality of this realization felt right, as their union never had been one she was entirely comfortable with. He wasn't apathetic, exactly, but he was so young, he hadn't ever been in love, certainly not with her, but now it didn't matter.

The little boy in the seat in front of her looked at her with wide, curious eyes, through the gap between the seats, and she stuck her tongue out at him. He gasped with delight and stuck his hand through, reaching for her. Ioana took his chubby little hand in hers and squeezed it.

She thought of her mother. "My mother will miss me," she informed the Spaniard. "She'll worry that I was in pain. That I was so young."

The Spaniard looked at her as if to say, grief is a part of it. He planted a tender kiss on her hairline, and she leaned in to him, her seatbelt straining her thigh slightly as she did.

The plane plummeted, emergency lights flashing, the pilot's voice crackling on the intercom, oxygen masks streaming from their containers, and the Spaniard began to sing. It wasn't anything symbolic, it wasn't a prayer or a hymn, for example, but at that moment, it might as well have been. In an awkward tenor and thick Spanish accent, the Spaniard sang David Bowie's "Heroes", stressing the wrong syllables and smiling contentedly, eyes closed, head back.

The screaming and hysterical laughter continued, but Ioana joined in. She knew all the lyrics. She had a Bowie poster back in the dorm room she'd never see again.

The plane plunged downwards, downwards, and nothing mattered anymore.


Sid and Nancy were our inspiration back then. God knows why. Nancy, a verbally abusive diagnosed schizophrenic, and Sid, an untalented drug addict. We couldn't even really listen to the Sex Pistols for more than fifteen minutes at a time, let alone Sid Vicious and his shitty solo work. But as long as their pictures splattered magazine covers, we were the morons cutting them out and taping them alongside the Clash patches in our lockers, the Ramones pins on our bags.

We shot up all the time, usually after school. Clark's mom, Harriet, didn't give a damn, she worked late at some joint called Berger's Burger Bar. Their menu was full of misplaced apostrophes and quotation marks. "Please try our "meatloaf", $3.99." When Harriet wasn't working, she'd smoke weed with us and take us to Berger's for chocolate pie and shakes.

Still, it was normally just Clark and me. After getting our fix, he'd put on his Buzzcocks record loud, real loud, and we'd eat crackers and I'd paint his nails black. Sometimes we'd steal Harriet's beer, but I usually was able to swipe some vodka from my parents. We'd lay on the floor and read each other articles out of the tabloids. Nancy Spungen and Sid, their heroin-addled lives parallel to ours. They were so in love, never out of each other's sight, their names sounded like music. SidandNancySidandNancy. It wasn't until later that I learned about what went on behind closed doors. The time Sid bragged about watching Nancy provide sexual services so that they could have enough cash for their next hit, or how frequently he would beat her within an inch of her life. Back then, we saw them as Romeo and Juliet, living a life of extreme indulgence. We wanted to be the hedonists they were.

"Let's get the hell out of San Diego," Clark breathed into my hair, the detritus of another afternoon of debauchery strewn around us. "Let's go to England, to London. My cousin has a band out there, he told me the punk scene is really on fire right now."

"Screw this disco shit," I agreed.

"Oh, Alli-baby, he told me I could play with them, meet the Clash." He was sweating, leaving wet handprints on my shoulders.

"And I could be your manager." I bit his wrist, hard, and we laughed hysterically until Clark ran to the bathroom to throw up.


When Nancy Spungen was found dead in Room 100 of the Hotel Chelsea in New York, Sid was at her side, gibbering in a drugged stupor. He was arrested for murder, with absolutely no memory of what had happened. "My baby's dead," he managed between tears.

I held Clark's hand tightly enough to cut off circulation as he read the news out loud to me. I couldn't look at the photograph of Nancy, my heroine, stab victim.

"He didn't kill her," I repeated, a mantra, as Clark pushed the needle into my vein. My hands were shaking so hard.

"Of course he didn't kill her," he murmured. "He loved her. Just like you and me, baby."

When we kissed, I tasted blood and vodka, and I finally let him have me, age fifteen, for the first time. He slapped me, hard, to stop my increasingly hysterical sobs, and then held my wrists over my head as he moved over me. It was over so fast, and afterwards we smoked in silence. I fingered the track marks on his arms and stared out the window into the October rain.


Clark was the golden boy at school, and everyone knew it. The disco crowd feared him, and the punk rockers followed him like he was their god. He was a fashion plate, never seen without his trademark chain necklace and a million safety pins holding his attire together. His motorcycle boots tracked mud into classrooms, but the teachers loved him. He had "so much potential" and "such a turbulent home life". Everybody thought they could save him.

I was just as bad as he was. Peroxide blonde hair, a face caked in make-up, tight leather pants. But I was just a background character in the film of Clark's life. The word "girlfriend" was never even spoken out loud. The other chicks shot me filthy looks, and boys just smirked at me. Still, Clark's love was a shield against their raised eyebrows. I could count on our afternoon trysts in his room, every day of the goddamn year, and all of Clark's groupies knew I was getting something they were missing out on. They just didn't know what. I often heard the word "starfucker" in snarky whispers behind my back, but I would just smile, imagining Nancy enduring the exact same taunts.

"I'm sleeping with you just to get in with your crowd, you know," I told him, tracing feather-light patterns on his bare back with the tip of one of his safety pins.

"No, you're not." His eyes were glazed over, his jaw was slack. "You're sleeping with me 'cause I'm irresistible."

"Screw you." I pushed harder with the pin, breaking skin and watching the blood pop to the surface.

"I know you want to." He took a deep drag on his joint and passed it to me.


Brenda Ann Spencer was this scrawny little thing. Her red hair was a fuzzy halo around her head, and guys joked about playing connect-the-dots with her freckles. She wasn't fashionable in any definition of the word, and she was madly in love with Clark.

"This one's even better than the last!" he crowed triumphantly, giggling as the amphetamimes hit. He'd read out the poems she left in his locker, pain-stakingly copied out of the dusty hardback anthologies from the meager selection in our school library. Her handwriting was large and child-like, I remember that. It was the writing of a little girl in love with a movie star.

The poems and love letters were photocopied and passed around Clark's inner circle. Whether or not Brenda ever found out is beyond me. All I know is, she didn't stop trying. It was almost touching, that persistence, her perseverance against the odds. Whenever she happened to cross Clark's path, she just kept her head down low, books pressed against her chest, heat rising to her cheeks behind her freckles. She was oblivious to the cat calls.


"They had a death pact, Alli, baby, they had a suicide pact." The gin slurred his speech, but the words tumbled into each other in his hurry to spill his theory. "They were so in love, so in love, and they knew they weren't going to live long, and they'd rather die than live without each other, right? Are you listening, Alli? They had a death pact, so Sid stabbed her, with the knife Nancy bought him, and he was going to-- he was going to kill himself, but he passed out from the sight of the blood, and the junk, and he never got a chance!"

He tossed an issue of some music magazine to me, and I scanned it with bated breath. Vicious had attempted suicide with a razor blade and a broken light bulb.

"Let's do it!" He grabbed me by the shoulders. "Right now! If you love me, you'll do this for us, Alli."


"Not now. In ten years, we'll die, together. We gotta live fast." He was shivering, cheeks flushed. "In ten years, we can take a bunch of pills, chase them with whiskey."

I kissed him hard, letting him bite my lower lip until he drew blood. We had a deal.


It was another one of those parties. We were all irritable and dulled by the January chill, so we clustered together in a small house for body heat, downing burning liquor and smoking furiously. Clark reigned supreme on the couch, his arm around some girl who was trying too hard to look like Chrissie Hynde. He was out of it, affecting his pseudo-British accent. "Fuck the government, mate! Fuck 'em. And what's your fuckin' name again?" He pointed at the girl beside him on the couch, falling into her as I poured even more rum into my Coke and went looking for the bathroom. I stared at myself in the cracked mirror, marvelling at my melting panda eye make-up, my flat, fried hair, the dried blood on my lower lip. Some older guy was laying against the tub, shooting up. I really needed a fix, so I went to find Clark.

"Oi, Clark! It's your girlfriend," yelled Dan, followed by drunken laughter. This was about to kill my buzz, until I realized they weren't talking about me, but about Brenda.

Brenda? What was she doing here?

"Brenda Ann Spencer!" Clark called out, still in his Brit impression. "Got another love letter for me?"

She bit her lip, glancing this way and that. She couldn't meet his eyes.

"Do you shoot smack, Brenda, love? Want to join us?" He slapped his hand on his thigh, as if he'd said something hilarious. The girl next to him whispered to him, leaving lipstick marks on his earlobe.

I was feeling very tense.

He stood up, losing his balance almost immediately, but still somehow managing to remain upright. The sneer on his face would have made even Sid Vicious recoil. Unsteadily, he made his way to Brenda, and patted her on the head condescendingly.

"Don't even bloody bother," he said. "I don't like you. Take your fuckin' love letters and burn them." I was seething with frustration; I'd endured Clark's public persona before, cherishing the knowledge that it was different when it was just us. Regardless, I finally broke.

"Leave her alone." My voice was almost a whisper, but he heard. He turned to me, still sporting the smirk, and raised his eyebrow in one clean movement.

"You honestly think you're any better than she is?" He sauntered back to the couch, and stuck his tongue in the Chrissie Hynde girl's mouth.

I'd had enough. I grabbed Brenda by the wrist and led her outside, shivering even in the mild Florida winter. My hands shook as I lit us both cigarettes. She looked at me with the vacant eyes of a doll.

"Don't listen to him, Brenda, he's not himself right now," I attempted, choking on the sobs threatening to erupt. She just stared at me for a minute, her face revealing nothing, before she turned around and walked away. I collapsed there, the heroin withdrawal beginning, and as I watched her leave, the shakes began and my vision blurred.

I don’t even remember getting home that night.


In the early eighties, the Boomtown Rats wrote a song about Brenda. Maybe you've heard it. It was titled "I Don't Like Mondays", and it was played so goddamn often, I stopped listening to the radio.

She lived down my street. I never knew, until I heard the gunfire, the sirens.

The very Monday following the party we'd both attended, Brenda Ann Spencer took a rifle her father had given her for Christmas and from her bedroom window, opened fire on children arriving at the elementary school right across the road from her house. There were no fatalities among the children, but Brenda killed Burton Wragg, the principal, as he was attempting to rescue the kids. Mike Suchar, the school custodian, also died while trying to help Wragg. On top of the two casualties, eight children were badly wounded in the shooting spree. During the stand-off with the police, which lasted six hours, she apparently told a reporter, "I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day."

I was there when she was finally apprehended. I was there. She looked directly at me, and the emotion that had been missing the other night was alive, dancing in her eyes. No guilt, no mercy, no sorrow, but pure, unbridled pain.

She looked so small in the back of that police car. She was such a scrawny little thing.


"She blamed me," Clark howled down the phone line, almost incoherent. Despite his hysterics, I pieced together what he was trying to tell me. Late Monday night, Brenda had pushed a final letter under his door. This time, she didn't hide behind a poet's elegance. Four words: This is your fault.

"Stop calling, Clark," I said, and put the phone down.


It's been about ten years. I haven't seen or heard from Clark since he dropped out of school. Supposedly, he moved to London, like he always told me he would.

Punk rock died along with Sid Vicious, who fulfilled his end of the suicide pact he'd made with Nancy, overdosed on heroin the very night he was released on bail. The new wave movement is popular right now, but I just can't get into it. It doesn't mean a thing to me.

I write to Brenda every now and then. I tell her about my job at the hair salon (which I hate), and the night classes I'm taking on the side (which I'm failing). I tell her about how I still live with my parents, since I can't make ends meet on my own. I tell her how they hope for me to become a secretary, but I can't think of a worse fate. I tell her how I still listen to The Clash every day, and how empty it sounds now. I tell her that I'll never forgive her for what she did, but that I'll never forget her. I don't know what possesses me to write her, given the atrocity she committed, but I can't help thinking of her handwriting. Those innocent loops on her Cs, the childish circles over her lower case Js. She's never written me back. Not once.


I remember an afternoon in November, eating the leftover chocolate pie that Harriet had brought home from work, and sitting shoulder on his bed after making love. We were watching the Flintstones, and I was letting him feed me forkfuls of pie. He wiped the crumbs from my mouth with his thumb.

"You treat me like a princess," I said, pushing him away, but he looked at me, his eyes more serious and genuine than I'd ever seen them.

"You are a princess. An angel. You're my angel."

We held hands, watched more cartoons, ate more pie.


So I put my Buzzcocks record on. Loud, real loud. I place the pills in my mouth and allow myself a smile, which I quickly correct into a Sex Pistols snarl. I follow the pills with Jack, straight, no Coke.

After all, we had a deal.