Charlotte woke up at 12 noon. The sun was at it’s zenith. The blackout blind at her window gave her no clue as to the time. The room remained in total darkness apart from the neon green glow of her clock radio. She turned to her phone, left on silent whilst she slept. No messages, no missed calls, no change there. She switched on her bed-side lamp, and looked at the half-full wine glass, from the night before.Without even thinking about it, she drained the glass. A little pick-me-up. She got out of bed and opened the bedroom door, and the sun crashed in like a sledge hammer. The pain behind her eyes exploded into a full-on headache. She went into the bathroom and sat on the toilet. As she pee’d she reached across to the bath taps and turned them full on. She waited until the hot tap ran hot, then she put in the plug and reached across to the bubble bath… As she stretched across, she slightly lifted her bum off the seat, and swore as she pee’d down the inside of her thigh. She wiped herself off with toilet paper, and went into the kitchen/living room of her flat. She turned on the kettle and put a tea-bag and sugar in the heavily stained cup. She went across to the fridge and saw that she was nearly out of milk.
“Shit, now I’ve got to go to the shop before work.” She stirred the water in the cup and removed the bag before adding the milk. She sipped her brew, and grimaced. The hot tea made her heartburn worse.
She took her tea into the bathroom and then went back into the bedroom for her cigarettes. She took off her nightdress, and carefully dangled a toe into the bath. Not too hot. She turned off the taps. She put one foot in the bath gingerly and then the other. She stood motionless for a couple of seconds… Then realised it was too hot. Too hot to handle.
She jumped out as quick as possible. She put more cold in until it was safe to stand in. She slowly lowered herself into the welcoming water. She washed her short cropped hair and then carefully scrubbed herself down. Then she lay back and shut her eyes. The most blissful moment of any day. She folded her flannel into a rectangle just wide enough to cover her eyes. She allowed herself a minute of bliss, then she jumped up and grabbed her tea. She sipped her tea and then reached for the towel. She dried her hands and took a cigarette out of the pack, She tried to light it with her lighter, but no spark would fly. Obviously her fingers were still damp. She took the towel and ran the lighter wheel across it to take away the moisture. She rubbed her fingers on the towel and then tried the lighter for a second time. It lit. She greedily sucked the smoke into her lungs. Ahh, that first head rush of nicotine. she sat in her bath, tea in one hand, cigarette in the other, and slowly took stock. The day she faced was the day she faced five times a week.
Did she begrudge the hours of her labour? Not so much. It gave her stability, as sense of normality. She had waited a long time to find a sense of normality. For a decade normality was a word which lay beyond her lexicon. For a decade, she had lived in a world beyond words. The thought of that, was enough to make her get a shift on. She got out of the bath, toweled her hair dry and then carefully dried her body. The drugs meant she had to take care to dry herself carefully, she had a horrible side- effect of rashes and dry skin. When she was happy that she was dry, she reached into the bathroom cabinet, took her pills and then took out her toothbrush and toothpaste. She squeezed out a small pearl of paste on to the brush and put it under tap. She rigorously brushed her teeth. She went into her bedroom and put on her uniform. She pinned her name tag to her left breast pocket. She looked across anxiously at the clock… Did she have enough time to go down to the shop before work? Just! She slipped on her flat shoes, grabbed her bag and pulled on her jacket. She ran the three flights of stairs down to the ground level and went across the road to the local shop. She bought a litre of semi-skimmed milk and a pack of 20 cigarettes. She looked longingly at a bottle of pinot grigio which was reduced… But did not give in to temptation.She had made it a rule ever since she had gotten back a “normal” life. Do nothing to interfere with the smooth running of her “normal” existence.She knew the fallibility of this hard and fast rule was ever near… She had already broken it this very day!
She had drunk the dregs of last night’s wine when she had woke up.Could she forgive this minor misdeamenour. In the end, she had no choice. She had to forgive herself. That is what her counsellor had hammered home to her. She did not have to punish herself for every little misdemeanor. Not every little thing…
She got back to the flat, and put the kettle back on. Another tea before she put her face on and made her way to the store. She drank a long draft of tea, and went back into the bathroom. She looked in the mirror. There it was, the tell-tale scar. The scar she had carried since she was six. It was like a chevron on her forehead. She had been pushed into the parrafin heater by her bigger brother when play had turned into a fight. The v-shaped vents at the top of the heater had left a perfect chevron burn on her forehead. Over the years the vivid scar had faded… But not enough for it not to be noticeable without make-up. It was like her mark of Cain. If anyone saw it in all of it’s natural glory, people might immediately put 2 and 2 together… then her secret would be out.
She applied an exfoliator to the area, then slowly filled the scar with a concealor. After this was completed she used a foundation to blend the area into a seamless whole. Once the chevron was hidden she felt safe. Her secret was safe. They say that you are always given a second chance, Charlotte knew otherwise. If it came out who she really was, her life would become untenable.
The walk to work took her 30 minutes. She could get a bus, but she liked to walk. It helped to prepare for work. Helped her set her mantra in her mind. I must smile! Imust try to be helpful. I will not react to provocation. In her mind, the drugs helped. They promoted a sense of ease. They kept her calm…Dull, but calm. They slowed the rate of thoughts in her mind. She couldn’t race ahead of the now with them. She could not create castles in the air. She could become hyper, but only by force of will… Luckily, she didn’t have that force of will. Her main concentration was on doing her job, being friendly and not reacting on provocation. Her counsellor had perfected this mantra with her. It had taken a long time to learn. She stepped out of the Safe place her flat represented and with the slightly perplexing smile pasted on her face, she paced out the steps which took her to work.
Work was in a supermarket. It was barely minimum wage, and required very little mental activity. She would stack stock, or less frequently, work on the till. She wasn’t often put on the till, given that it required a friendly response, to often idiotic members of the public. Her manageress was aware of her mental past, and protected her to some extent, trying not to over stress her. Her manageress was a nice person. She seemed to understand. He had spoken to Charlotte about her own mother, and how she too had been under section after a period of post-natal depression. Where the manageress was kind and understanding, the supervisor under her was the opposite. He was deliberately provoking. He didn’t agree with the company’s policy of employing Nut jobs, as he called the mentally impaired. He was of the old school. Why give nutters a job when there were ordinary people who needed jobs? Of course, he did voice these opinions within earshot of management, he kept these opinions to himself and his sidekick and underling. Together, the supervisor Jim, a short, fat, and balding tyrant; and Julie, his long, thin, angular and stupid sidekick, looked like a comedy double act… Laurel and Hardy, Little and Large, Hitler and Mussolini… Charlotte had thought of the last comparison during a difficult period from yesterday’s shift. She had thought it smiled to herself, and then admonished herself for not thinking of her mantra. Such thoughts could lead to a cascde event. A spiral of thoughts which would lead inevitably back to the unit. She had taken control of herself. She had, by force of will, focused on smiling, on breathing and not on throwing a tin of baked beans at the supervisor’s big fat shiny bald pate! What was it her counselloe had said? She focused. His words were… It’s ok to have these thoughts… It is not Ok to act upon them. Don’t focus on the thought, focus on getting beyond the thought. She had broken out of the mindset, but it had not been easy. She had taken the trolley of stock, the supervisor had found for her twenty minutes before the end of her shift, and had headed back out on to the shopfloor. The last two hours of the shift she did, the store was closed. She and others on her shift, were expected to clear existing stock, so that the night shift could prepare the new stock, which arrived at eight, for the shopfloor. They had to breakdown the pallets and put them into bay related trolleys.Normally, the twilight staff had finished the existing stock, and would help the night shift break down the palletised stock. It was the best part of the shift for Charlotte. The night shift would banter and joke about, and though Charlotte did not really join in, she enjoyed the feeling that she could. That she was accepted. It felt nice to feel this sense of belonging. So, to be singled out by the Supervisor on last night’s shift had meant that she had missed out on the banter. She was banished from the warehouse, sent out with this magical trolley of stock which had not been there earlier, and sent to the far flung bays of spices and condiments. She felt victimised. It had hurt when she heard laughter as the rubber door shut behind her. She had wanted to answer back, to call them names. She had wanted blood. She had breathed slowly, she had pasted on her best smile, and tried to ignore the tiny tears which prickled in the corner of her eyes. She spoke her mantra in her mind. She did as she was told.
It didn’t matter how hard you tried to conform, tried your hardest to be the perfect worker, there was always someone there who made everything difficult for you. Why? Why would they be like that? Charlotte did not have the guile to understand the process… The process by which you feel your worth rise by pushing someone else down. She had missed out on the fundamentals of workplace politics. Work, in a normal environment had been a goal in itself. Just to make the transition to a normal, run of the mill, worker, had been a massive step in her recovery. She was determined not to crack under the jibes and unfair treatment from little Hitler and his gormless lanky oppo, Mussolini.
She would do the job she was told to do, no matter what, no matter how much she felt provoked, she would not give in. This was her chance to live a normal life. Normal! How far she had come from those dark, dark days.She had a very vague notion of her life before the dark, dark days. She had a notion that her life before the fall… Had been far from normal. She had a notion that she had been extra-ordinary. Yet the shape of those ,before times, were as fantastical as Prospero’s Island in the Tempest. She had read the Tempest at some point, maybe it was as a schoolgirl. The drugs made memories as fluffy as clouds.
When she got to work, her smile was plastered in place. She went to see the Manager, who had left word on the customer service desk, that he wanted to see her before she started her shift. She was worried. Why did he want to see her? She couldn’t think of what she might have done to require an urgent word?
“You wanted to see me, Mr. Jones?”
” Hi there Charlotte, how are you?”
“I’m fine thanks sir.”
“Call me Brian, Charlotte, you don’t have to be so formal.”
” Thank you Mr. Jones, I mean Brian.”
“Okay, Charlotte, I asked you here just to see if everything is going fine. If you have any problems it’s important that you feel you can come to me. I know how hard it must be, with this being your first job after… Well, you know, after your problems.”
“It’s fine, eh, Brian, I enjoy the job, I like to work.”
” I can see you do, you always have such a lovely smile for all the customers and the staff alike.”
“Thank you sir, I mean Brian, I’m glad I’m making a good impression.”
“I think you are doing really well, Charlotte, but some people take a bit longer to take to new staff… it has been brought to my attention, by one of the twilight shift, that one of my supervisors has been less than friendly towards you. Mentioning no names, if this becomes a problem, or if you feel you can’t cope with his attentions… You must come to me. Don’t let it get you down, we don’t want any unpleasantness. I don’t want you to feel under stress. Remember, you have a friend in me, I’m here to help you.”
“Thank you Mr.Jones, I will. I will come to you if I have any problems, but I’m just happy to have a job. I can cope with everything thanks all the same.”
“Good, I’m glad you have such a positive attitude… I’m Here for you, don’t forget… Now, time to you got yourself back down on the shopfloor… Those shelves won’t fill themselves.”
” Of course, eh Brian, can’t wait to get started!”
Back in the warehouse, things were not quite so cordial. Jim looked pointedly at his watch…
“You’re ten minutes late, Charlotte!”
“Mr. Jones wanted to see me.” She explained.
“What did the corporal want?” he asked.
“Corporal? Sorry I don’t understand.”
“Corporal Jones… You know from Dad’s Army.”
” I didn’t know he was in the army.”Charlotte looked perplexed.
” It’s a joke… Dad’s Army, you know, off the telly?”
“Sorry, Jim, I don’t have a telly.”
“It’s no wonder you don’t know shit then is it Charlotte? “
“Don’t be sorry, Charlotte, just be punctual…Now then I’ve got a nice little job for you. You see that cage full of beans there… I want you to put them on the overstock shelf down aisle 10. The normal shelves are full, so just chuck them on the top shelf ready for refilling.”
“Can i have a kick stool?” Charlotte knew that Jime didn’t like a kickstool on the shopfloor when there were customers… But without one there was no way she could reach the topshelf safely.
” A kick-stool on the shop floor during open hours? You know my rules.”
“But Jim, I can’t reach the top shelf without a Kick-stool.”
” You know what Charlotte, just for you, I’m going to change the rules…”
” I was joking, you idiot!”
She took The trolley full of beans and made for aisle 10. She would have to improvise. She decided she had two choices, one, go to the manager and tell him that what Jim was asking her to do was impossible, or two, to take some of the tins and put them on the floor as a impromptu step and gently push the rest of the tins on to the overstock shelf from the front. It was, she realised, a task which had been set-up for her to fail. She didn’t wonder at Jim’s malicious attitude to her, she had overheard his mocking of her in the staff room… Calling her a loony. Obviously, Brian, the manager had only told the supervisor some of her history. He had not given Jim the details, which he been privy to, he had just said enough so that Jim would be patient with her… But this knowledge had only served to make the supervisor suspicious of her and resent having a “Mong” as he had called her in the staffroom, under his supervision. She knew that his prejudice was not going to change. She loved having a job, and the freedom it gave her, but feared that Jim would do his utmost to make her job impossible.
She gingerly stood on the four tins of beans and reached up to the top shelf and pushed a tin on. So far so good, she put down fur more tins so she could stand on them with both feet. She grabbed four more tins and placed them on the front of the shelf. Then she got four more and slowly pushed the four backwards until the front ones were pushed right onto the shelf. The methodology was good to a point, but what she couldn’t ascertain was how far back the tins had gone. She had to try to ensure that they also lined up tidily. Given that she was unsighted, as the shelf was at arms length from her standing position, even with the tins she was standing on. Of course the inevitable happened. She pushed to get the four tins in her hands on to the front of the shelf… and having them just hanging over the edge, she pushed against the resistence. A tin fell over the top and dislodged a couple of large jars of silverskin pickled onions from the top shelf on the opposite aisle. There was a loud ckatter and crash! Closely followed by a loud expletive.
“What The Fuck!” Charlotte ran around the aisle to see a young man hopping. He had shorts and trainers on, and there was a pretty substantial trickle of blood coming from the back of his left calf.
Charlotte didn’t know what to do… Her brain told her to run away, but her conscious thought was to help… But how to help, she didn’t know first aid… That was it get a first aider. She ran down to the customer service and asked Beryl to call for a first aider on aisle 9. She then went to the warehouse to fetch the clean-up trolley. When she got back to the aisle, she could see that Jim was leading the young man away to the staff room.
He gave her a gutteral grunt…
“Clean up this mess then come to me in the staff room, I thin you owe this young man an apology.
Charlotte swallowed a sob as she gingerly picked up the glass and white pickled onions. Once she was sure she had bagged up the offending detritus, she wiped the floor clean with the mop.
She was screaming inside her head, now your for it, now your for it now your for it… She tried to remember the mantra… Breathe slowly, it’s not your fault, it’s just an accident.
She took the clean-up trolley back to the warhouse and timidly made her way to the staff room. She stood by the door and watched as Jim cleaned the wound and patched it with an elastoplast. She could here what he was saying…
“I’m sorry sir, she’s a bit special, if you know what I mean… A loony, a fruitcake… but we have to take them… Company policy and all that.”
“Why was she stacking a top shelf without a stool to help her reach? I saw her, I mean she was standing on tins to be able to reach… I thought thats an accident waiting to happen… I didn’t expect it to be an accident waiting to happen to me!”
“I don’t know why she didn’t have a kick-stool, she should have asked for one, as I said, she’s not the full shilling.” Charlotte face reddened, breathing wasn’t going to help now…
“I’m sorry sir, I really am… But the reason why I didn’t have a kick-stool was because HE wouldn’t let me have one! His exact words were, It makes the shopfloor look untidy. I knew trying to stack the tins like that was ridiculous… but I had no choice. He didn’t give me one!”
“That’s enough from you young lady, you can go and get your coat, you are fired!”
She flushed a deeper shade of red. The voice in her head said “Give him a slap”. The mantra said, “calm, keep calm.” She turned curtly, and walked out of the staff room and into the women’s changing room. She put on her coat, picked up her handbag from her locker, and walked out through the front of the store. She made it to the edge of the car park, before the voice of her Manager stopped her.
“Charlotte, what’s wrong, where are you going?”
She stopped still and started to sob. Brian ran up to her and put a hand on her shoulder.
“He just sacked me!” She managed to get out between sobs and sniffs.
“Jim. He wouldn’t let me take a kick-stool on the shopfloor, and when I knocked off some pickled onions on the aisle opposite, it caused a customer to be injured. He then told a lie. He said I hadn’t asked for a kick-stool, and told the customer that I was special needs. I called him a liar and he said, get your coat, you’re fired!”
“Whoa… Slow down. Come back inside. Come to my office. Only I can summarily sack someone, not Jim, not anyone else. Just me. And I am not about to sack you. You are the most conscientious worker we have.”
Brian left Charlotte in his office and asked his office staff to make her a cup of tea. He made his way down to the staff room without a clear plan of what he was going to say. He knew the nature of the beast, Jim. Yet he had put him in his supervisor’s role. So if anyone was responsible for the situation it was him.
He had ignored his jibes against Charlotte, hoping that eventually he would come around to her. He bitterly regretted telling Jim about some of Charlotte’s mental issues. He had only given him the most rudimentary details, saying that she had suffered from a long bout of depression. He had told Jim this, in the hope he would not give her hard time as she tried to acclimatize to living fully back in the community. Brian was thankful that he had not given Jim the details of her mental illness… He would have made her the laughing stock of the staff room. He knew that he had made an error of judgment in telling his supervisor anything, but even further he had not intervened when he realised that Jim was using the information to make Charlotte’s life hell. He could and should have done something about it. Several of the nightshift had told him about Jim’s jibes, but he had done nothing. Why hadn’t he done something? He wasn’t good at confrontation. He was a little afraid of people like Jim. Hard-nosed working-class men who wore the chip on their shoulder like a medal of honour. His degree in Business Studies had given him the skills to cope with the business side of management, but not the social side. In truth, he felt less of a man, than people like Jim. He conscientiously believed in the company policy of giving opportunities to handicapped and mentally handicapped people; he believed that health and safety rules were of paramount importance to the safety of his staff… But he also knew that these liberal and safety-conscious policies were only paid scant lip-service to by most employees. He had not got the forceful personality to impress these passions on the workforce. He had let much slide. He was at fault, and he was perfectly aware of that. So, how to right these wrongs? He needed time. He had to think things through. His first thought was to speak to Jim now… But right now he hadn’t got a clue what he was going to say. So he put the Jim quandary on hold. He walked into the Staff room to see how the customer was. Jim was bent in front of the young man who had been injured. He was holding a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. In truth, it was just a nick but the bleeding made it look worse.
” Jim, let me talk to this young man, if you don’t mind. Go back to your work and come and see me at the end of your shift.”
“Eh, Brian you usually leave before the end of my shift, you want me to come up before five?”
“No, Jim, That won’t be necessary, I will be here at ten, come and see me then.”
“Okay. Err, you now I told Charlotte she was fired?”
“Yes. I’ll talk to you later.”
Jim left the staff room. Was he smiling? Was he thinking that the college boy was a push-over? Who can tell… He had a natural in-born smirk which rarely left his face.
Brian spoke to the injured young man.
“I’m terribly sorry sir, I will have to fill in an incident report. Can you tell me what happened?”
“I was shopping, and one of your staff saw fit to smash glass jars around me. I can’t believe she was stocking a top shelf without a stool. I mean, the poor woman is barely 5’3″, and she’s trying to stock a 6ft high shelf by standing on bloody tins. She says she asked to use a kick-stool, but her supervisor said she couldn’t have one on the shopfloor during opening hours. I spoke to the guy and he says she was lying, and intermated that she was not a full shilling, as he put it.”
“I’m sorry sir, that is not company policy, the health and safety guidelines state categorically that all over-stock sheves should only be done with a kick-stool. I don’t quite now all of the circumstances of the incident, but I take it very seriously, and if there is misconduct I will be dealing with it very severely. Health and Safety at work is of the utmost importance.”
“I’m sure it is, but I’m more upset by the way the woman was treated by that idiot!”
“I will be dealing with his behaviour and his attitude, sir, you can rest assured of that.”
“Is the woman, Charlotte was it, Is she alright? She looked like she wanted to punch him!”
“She is sat in my office with a cup of tea… Don’t worry Sir, she has not been sacked. She will be looked after, don’t worry about that. I shall send her home shortly, just so she can pull herself together.”
Brian went back to his office and found Charlotte sat with a cup of tea… She was not drinking it, just holding the cup and saucer, and the cup was rattling, her hand was slightly shaking, he could not know if this was because she was fearful or because of her medication. He paused. He needed to say the right words here. He had to intimate that he did not blame her for the accident, but at the same time, he could not undermine his management team.
” Charlotte are you okay?”
” Yes thanks.”
” I’ve spoken to the guy who got injured and he does not blame you. He believes that you were not in the wrong… He puts the blame on Jim. I am going to have to sort out a few things, but it will take a couple of hours. So, what I’m suggesting, Charlotte, is you take the rest of your shift off, of course you will be paid for it, and come back to work tomorrow. I will have sorted out the situation and you will be able to carry on your good work.”
She nodded dumbly. Having no words to say, silence was always a safe option. She was led out of the office by Brian and she put down the cup and saucer on the office table.
She walked out of the store in a dazed state. She could not compute the events of the day. Was it shock? Or just the general befuddlement caused by her meds.
She turned left out of the carpark and out on to the main street.
“Charlotte?” A voice came from behind her.
She turned and saw the young man, whom she had inadvertently injured only half an hour before.
She carried on walking, she did not have the energy to deal with a conflict. He ran to keep up with her,
She ignored him and continued to walk. A hand grabbed her shoulder.
“WAIT!” She cowered away from his loud voice and physical contact.
“Please.” His voice was plaintive. She stopped and with a fixed jaw she stared at him.
“I just wanted to say, I don’t blame you for what happened. Your supervisor is a complete Prick!”
It took Charlotte a moment to take in his words. This was the drugs! She was not naturally slow on the up-take.
” I’m so sorry, you got hurt. It was stupid… A stupid situation… You are right, Jim is a total dick!”
“There is something else, Charlotte, do I know you?”
” I very much doubt it, I’m old enough to be your mother.”
“There is something about your face that rings a bell, I can’t place it, were you on television?”
“No you are mistaken. I’ve been away for a long time.”
“Would you like to come for a coffee or something?”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
“I don’t drink on a work day.”
“Ok. I’m not about to proposition you, you know, I just wanted to talk. There is something about you… something lurks in the back of my mind, and I think you can help me bring it out.”
Charlotte was not good at talking to people she didn’t know, she was afraid to give too much, in case she gave away too much. There was so much stuff, she did not want to bring back to the surface… That way lies madness. An old friend, now ostracized and banished. She did not seek company. She had a teddy bear at home. She confided in him. No one else. Yet, she felt that maybe she owed this young man, a moment, after all she had cut him… However inadvertently.
“Ok, a small spritzer won’t hurt.”
They walked in silence as he led her into the nearest pub. It was not a place that Charlotte had frequented. She didn’t tend to drink in public. She limited her alcohol to one bottle of Chardonnay at the weekend, a glass a night, taken with her evening meal. It was a limit she had set for herself, under advice from her Counselor.
As they walked in, she sat with her back to the wall by the door.
“What would you like?” He asked.
“A spritzer please.”
“Half white wine, half soda.”
He went to the bar and ordered a pint and a spritzer. He came back from the bar and looking at Charlotte, the sun shone on her forehead through the window and suddenly he could see the scar on her head highlighted by the sun’s impertinent rays. His mouth gaped… The scar was unmistakable.
He knew who she was. When she looked up at him as he approached the table, she could tell by the look on his face, that he had worked out who she was. She made to get up… Her first reaction was to flee.
She started to stand, but the young man, putting down the drinks, blocked her escape. She sat back down heavily, and put her head in her hands.
” You are Candy Lush.” It was not a question.
She looked up into his eyes. She saw there was no escaping it. She nodded ever so slightly.
” I was… a very long time ago.”
“My sister had your poster on her wall, I remember it. Great name by the way, Candy Lush and the Sugar Rush. It’s does exactly what it says on the tin.”
“Not my idea, the management came up with it. I hated it!”
“I bet you did. I bet you hated the schoolgirl look too.”
“I had no control. I was what they made me. Just a puppet. The band… I didn’t even know them. Just a random group of session musicians… Dragged up and painted by numbers.”
Candy Lush and The Sugar Rush. A rave from the grave, daring in the mid-90’s, with the real schoolgirl lead singer and a group of lads dragged up in long frocks and bouffant wigs, a mixture of altered images, with a hint of Queen, and just a little froth of The Archies and Sweet. The A and R man’s wet dream. An Antidote to the Spice Girls. Whilst they were forever spouting the vacuous phrase, Girl Power! Candy Lush was pouting provocatively, with her spiky hair and spiky attitude, and singing songs about sugar. Old and trite covers of Sugar, Sugar, and a punked up version of Sugar me by Lynsey de Paul. It was a different time, the management now used as an old tired excuse… But there is no excusing the deliberate sexualisation of a young fourteen year old girl from the sticks.
The “Band” had three top ten hits, a number one album, The Sugar Rush… The vacant premise that all the songs contained the word sugar in them. Marketing people, remember the words of Bill Hicks,
“Kill Yourselves! There is no rationalisation for what you do, You are satan’s little helper’s Kill yourself!”
It was a horrible idea, a sickly saccharine, sexually obscene and abusive idea, dreamt up by a deeply disturbed Manager, who had took Charlotte under his wing, when he had happened upon her in a school production of Annie. His presence in the audience had been an accident, his niece was in the chorus, and his brother had thought he might find her good enough for pop stardom. His niece had no talent, but the lead… Charlotte had played Annie. He talked to her parents and sold them on the idea, that there little Charlotte could become Britain’s answer to Britney Spears. In a cartoon version of this consultation… pound signs would be rolling in the parent’s eyes… They were hooked. Charlotte however, hated the idea. She liked singing alright, but she didn’t want to be Britney Spears, she wanted to be Siouxsie Sioux. And she didn’t want to be a perverts wet dream. She wanted to be in a band, playing real rock music… She wanted to kick ass not kiss it.
Thus, came the sugar rush element. Paddy, the Manager, would-be Svengali, had invited Charlotte and her parents down to London and had presented the band as a fait au compli. They had not been dragged up at the time, They had looked like any young rock band. They had acted leery and knowing, but in truth, they were being manipulated by the management as much as Charlotte.
They had been sold on the idea of the band, by Paddy saying, “Guys it will be amazing, you’ll see,
just like Blondie…”
“I fucking hate Blondie.” Steve the would-be lead guitarist had said. He had been pulled to one side, and sent packing. A new more malleable guitarist had been swept in. Meet Mike, he plays like a dream.
So the dream began. They rehearsed. In the beginning, there was no question of covering sugar songs. It was all very run of the mill. The band liked Charlotte’s voice, but were concerned that she was too young to be fronting a rock band. Charlotte wore gothic black clothes all the time. The band were in the generic look of the time. Jeans and band t-shirts… The usual suspects… Nirvana, Blur, Oasis, Ramones. They tried covering old punk classics, “Up bondage up yours” “Stone Heroes” “Christine”, all great songs but not exactly suitable fare for a fourteen year old girl to be singing.
Paddy watched the band rehearse and thought they were great and that Charlotte was brillant… But!
The inevitable but… They needed an angle. He would have to think.
From there it was easy… Punked up version of Britney. A gymslip tied in the middle with a stripey school tie, a battered boater, torn tights and great big blue knickers, the sort schoolgirls wore for sports. It was a truly cheesy look, but Charlotte had accepted it because it was just far enough away from the pedo fantasy… Or so she thought. Her parents had gone along with it… They thought it was a tongue in cheek joke.
“What happened to you? You just disappeared from the scene.”
“Surely, you know what happened… It was a big story at the time.” Charlotte said.
“I was just a kid, I never knew anything, one day my sister had you all over the walls of her room… The next you were gone. I never knew why, just thought my sister was being fickle, like she is about most things.”
” Do you really want to know?”
“Yeah, how the hell did you end up stacking tins in a supermarket?”
Candy had been living with her manager as a house guest. It had made sense to her parents, she needed to be in London to do her work. Paddy had arranged a tutor to come to his house, so she could play lip-service to continuing her schooling… But it had only been lip-service. She didn’t care about her education, all she wanted to do was sing. Yet, despite the sudden over-night success, she was not happy, she didn’t like the image she portrayed, she didn’t like the music they were making… And she didn’t like Paddy! He was a creep. There was an over-riding sinister feeling she got when she was around him. He had not been overtly sexual to her, but his constant touching and cajoling of her had made her feel physically sick. She was told what to eat; she was told what to wear; she was told what to sing… She had no control of her life. He even controlled who she could see and who she could meet. She was having a successful career, but she was no more than an automaton. A walking, talking, singing doll! And more importantly, she was not the type of person who liked to be told what to do. She was in the middle of her teenage years, at an age where rebellion comes naturally.
She was lost in this world. The breakdown was almost inevitable. It came when there was a party at Paddy’s place. The party was one of those horrible corporate events, glad-handing all those record company bigwigs and marketing types.
“Where something sexy and sophisticated, Candy, we need to begin to move your image on up.”
He had given her a little black dress, stilettos and a full vamp uniform. What was this new image about? Dressing a Teen as a whore? She felt sick. What was being expected of her?
Paddy had paraded her around the room, working the crowd, his hands all over, she felt hot, sickly hot… like the blood was rushing to her head. He had pulled her around once too often. He had placed her down on a settee… Next to a fat balding old man, with spinach in his teeth and a leer in his eyes. Paddy had set a plateful of food down in front of her, The exec beside her had pressed his arm across her shoulder and pulled her even closer to him. He was speaking weasel words into her ear. She felt sick, really sick… And she had a moment of clarity. He kissed her neck and she reached forward to the plate.
As he moved back from her face, and smiled a blubber lip smile she had picked up the fork off the plate and stabbed the malignancy in the eye.
It had made a satisfying pop. Then all hell broke loose. He squealed like a farrowing pig!
She laughed and said to Paddy,
“Now that’s what I call music!”
She was restrained. Locked up in her bedroom, as an ambulance was called. The exec was dispatched to casualty, and Candy was taken to a locked ward. A pet psychiatrist, in the company’s employ had given her a temporary 48 hr section order. And there she had stayed for ten years. Ten years of her life stolen from her. And the money she had made from the whole venture were spirited away by all of the main protagonists, Manager, record company and parents… All had there cut. And Candy lost everything. Ten years of her life. All of her talent, all of her youth… Stolen for a dream.
This is a story I have carried in my head for years. I have been fascinated by the way we pigeon-hole people as non-entities, just because of what they are doing now. But, we don’t know their back story, people are not the two-dimensional cut outs we imagine them to be. I spent fifteen years working as a merchandiser in hardware stores, and have met many people with interesting back stories. Not the one I made up above, but many different and diverse stories.
If I was to write this as a novel, I would have written it completely differently, but this was an exercise in writing a story episodically in a manner similar to Dickens, so changed the point of view to make a series of reveals available. I enjoyed the process but I don’t think it was the best way of writing it.
Thanks to all who have read the story. Any feed back will be gratefully received.