Eviscerated Panda - Chapter 3

By Sarah Tipper

We thought, let's try something new. Something different. Over the next issues of Metal On Loud, we will publish a chapter out of Sarah Tipper's "Eviscerated Panda - A Metal Tale" book, making this our very own literary mini series! Last months we presented you chapter 1 and 2, enjoy chapter 3 in this issue!

Chapter Three

 

 

 

In which the Pandas play gigs in Coventry and Oxford.

 

 

 

It was a Friday at the very end of June, just six weeks since the Pandas first gig together. They had a gig in Coventry that evening. Since their last gig in Swindon they had written two more songs. ‘Judgement Day’ was written mainly by Nick and was about meeting God and being shown scenarios of your life when you’ve sinned then being called to account for it. Although none of the Pandas were religious they liked to borrow religious imagery to use in their songs.

 

The other new song was written by Phil and was about an evil and sexually insatiable woman who preys on young men. It was called ‘Psycho Hose Beast’. When Phil had explained what it was about, around the table in the Green Man one night, Suzy had asked him why he had linked being evil and being sexually insatiable. Phil had said ‘tradition’ and they’d got into a big discussion about if and why he thought most women enjoyed sex.

 

Jenni and Cleo thought Phil was a great example of an unreconstructed male and that Jenni’s dad Roy would love to study him. Roy and Pam had gone away to France on holiday that morning. They were away for two weeks and Jenni was planning to have Nick to stay over. Everyone agreed that Jenni and Nick made a strikingly attractive couple. They had started officially dating. Both were tall and slim, with long dark hair and were so obviously besotted with each other.

 

Paul was driving the van to Coventry late afternoon. As the drummer he had the most stuff to take and so it generally fell to him to drive. Also travelling in the van were Angie, Phil, Jim and Suzy. They had assembled at Phil’s and loaded up. Boris had taken a break from lying in a sunny patch on the grass by Phil’s front door. He got up to sniff and rub against any persons or pieces of equipment standing on the pavement. Jim had fussed him the most. He liked cats. They were straight-forward in their desires.

 

On the way they listened to WASP and Wolfsbane. Angie and Paul sat up front and Suzy sat between Phil and Jim in seats behind them. Angie was one day late on her (usually very regular) period. She had said nothing to anyone except Paul. She didn’t expect to conceive this quickly and was trying not to get her hopes up.

 

The atmosphere between Suzy and Jim was very frosty. Suzy had almost not come to Coventry. She and Jim had had a huge row about her flirting and about the way she dressed. She felt she couldn’t keep trying to stifle herself for Jim’s sake. She had just been flirting but there had been a few times when she’d nearly gone further even though she didn’t want to be unfaithful to Jim. She was thankful that they hadn’t moved in together. She had ninety-nine per cent resolved to break up with him gently when they got back home to Reading. She liked the way she dressed, she had a great body and when she went out she liked to wear something tight or short or low cut and didn’t feel like herself if she wore jeans and a jumper.

 

Suzy sat closer to Phil than to Jim all the way there. In her mind she had already broken up with him. She’d have liked to go home and have a big cry, which wasn’t like her. She was wearing one of her favourite dresses, a shiny black lycra halter neck dress made by Lovebomb with a silver barbed wire print across the chest. Jim hated this dress because Suzy would always attract male attention in it and sometimes female attention too. Jim had agreed that it didn’t count as infidelity if Suzy kissed other women. He had been trying to keep her happy and when he’d said it he didn’t think he’d be jealous of other women but it turned out he was. He knew that after an Ann Summer’s party Suzy had spent the night with one of the women she met there. He knew he couldn’t give her everything she wanted and it made him feel inadequate.

 

Ian, Nick, Jenni and Dean had decided to go to the gig in Damon’s car. Jenni took some mini Mars bars for the journey. They listened to Entombed and Cannibal Corpse on the way. Dean and Damon were the kind of inseparable best mates that made a party when it was just the two of them. Damon said that his band, Demon Speeding, couldn’t play gigs at the moment because their drummer had left. Dean said he would put an advert for a new drummer up on the noticeboard in the Right Note and Jenni said she’d email the University of Reading Rock Society. Everyone tried to think of available drummers but none sprang to mind.

 

‘I really miss playing gigs’. Damon said.

 

‘We can have more Demon Speeding and Eviscerated Panda gigs once you get a new drummer’. Ian consoled him.

 

‘Your showing off muscles will wither and die if you don’t keep them toned’. Said Dean.

 

They were in Coventry before they knew it. Jenni enjoyed being surrounded by handsome men. She had such an awesome weekend lined up, the gig tonight would be brilliant and then she and Nick had the house to themselves. She had wished her Mum and Dad ‘Bon Voyage’ cheerily that morning.

 

Cleo got the train to Coventry at lunchtime. She was going to stay in a hotel in the centre of town that night and meet up with some friends from Uni on Saturday. She walked from the station into the town, pausing on the bridge crossing the flyover. One way looked towards Warwick, the other way pointed towards Leicester but to Cleo, standing there alone, with all the traffic rushing past underneath her, the two directions seemed to point to endless possibilities. It was only a year ago she’d left Coventry, and less than that since she’d graduated in the beautiful cathedral. She remembered feeling nervous on the walk towards the podium, feeling shy as she accepted her certificate and then elated as she walked up the aisle of the great cathedral holding the indisputable paper proof of three years’ work in her sweaty hand.

 

She checked into the Albion hotel, which made her feel like an adult. Then she went for a walk around town, enjoying the fountains and missing the Woolworths where she’d loved to shop for notebooks and pick and mix sweets. She had none of the stresses of essays to hand in or a rapidly increasing overdraft and she approached Coventry with a new found freedom and maturity. Then she went back to the hotel, changed into her black and red bat print miniskirt, red fishnet tights and Venom T-shirt and walked to the club.

 

When Cleo met the Pandas in the club that night they were full of restless energy and clearly couldn’t wait to play. This trip out of Reading was already looking much better than the trip to Swindon had been. The promoter had met them, showed them where to park, been pleasant, helped them load in and had introduced them to the headline band, ‘Over-revved Engine’, who played traditional heavy metal. The singer was Jez, there was Chris on bass, Dan on guitar and Alan on drums. The two bands sound checked and then retired to the bar.

 

While the bands were sound checking everyone else explored the club. It was more than twice the size of the Edge Bar. At one end there were toilets and a chill out area full of comfy sofas and low tables while the main room had a long bar and two stages of which just the larger one would be used tonight. There were corridors round the club, leading from the entrance of the bar round to the chill out area and in the other direction to the back of the smaller stage and also to an upstairs chill out area with high backed booths around the room and a small dance floor in the middle.

 

When they were all back at the bar Suzy started chatting to Chris and Jez. She could start a conversation and find some common ground with anyone anywhere, which made her a great sales rep. It was a skill Angie shared, but which she’d learnt from being a hairdresser rather than it coming naturally to her like it did to Suzy. Sometimes if Suzy and Angie got talking it would be half an hour before Jim or Paul got a word in. Suzy did not want to talk to Jim tonight. Angie was pre-occupied with her own body, looking for signs that she might be pregnant.

 

While Suzy was talking to Jez she found herself thinking back to the advice she’d given Cleo, Jenni and Tracy about sleeping with an older guy for the experience. This was what she needed after Jim she thought. She thought that she had just thought ‘after Jim’ and felt miserable and guilty. She brushed the thought aside.

 

‘I’m looking forward to seeing you in action’. She said to Jez. She smiled a big wide smile. It was the kind of smile popular in the nineteen-seventies that undoes the top buttons of men’s shirts and slides a perfectly manicured hand across their broad hairy chests.

 

Nick, Jenni and Ian left the club with Cleo. Nick wanted to buy cigarettes and Cleo said she could point out a shop and also a few landmarks. She showed them round the ruins of Coventry’s original cathedral that had been bombed in the Second World War and they took photos of the winged angel statue at the front of the rebuilt cathedral. Nick made a note in his lyrics notebook about the ruins. Then Cleo showed them the statue of Lady Godiva. Ian and Nick giggled at the bare breasts on show in the town centre. Cleo said

 

‘I’m trying to introduce you to some culture, don’t go all Beavis and Butthead on me’.

 

‘You can introduce me to as much culture if you like, so long as it’s got its top off’. Ian said.

 

The Pandas were looking forward to the challenge of playing their new songs live. They started their set with ‘Judgement Day’. Damon and Dean started moshing and soon the local Cov metal-heads, including all of Over-revved engine except Jez had joined in. He didn’t like mosh pits because they messed his hair up. The set went like passionately played something much more modern than clockwork, except for one point when Paul accidentally dropped a drumstick. He retrieved it quickly and no-one noticed. Ian had become visibly more comfortable on stage and he and Phil threw a few shapes, pointing their guitars at the audience. Jim had made progress in terms of stage presence too. Now he was looking at the audience for part of the time instead of always at his feet or the middle distance and he was head-banging a little. They looked and sounded impressive. This was the first time they had a decent sized audience that wasn’t mostly people they knew.

 

Nick introduced the band before the final song and they got loud cheers. They played ‘Metal Fix’ as the last song. That and ‘Unevil Genius’ seemed to them to be the biggest crowd pleasers. It always seemed to Ian that the actual gig was over so fast. There was so much that happened before. There was practice, hours of it, both individually and together. There were emails and calls between them and the promoter. Then they would organise who was going and how they were getting there and then it was over and they had to put everything back in the van until the next time. It was all worth it he thought. He loved how it felt to have played a successful gig. So far they had played great gigs at the Edge Bar and a lacklustre one in Swindon. The difference in mood after the Swindon gig and tonight’s gig was massive.

 

The Pandas and Angie, Suzy, Cleo, Jenni, Damon and Dean clustered to the left of the stage to watch Over-revved Engine. They were excellent, classic metal. The sound in the venue was amazing and the wooden floor vibrated slightly. The local crowd went mad for them. They played regularly in Cov and some of the audience were singing along with Jez, knowing the words as well as he did. Before each song Jez addressed the audience and told them the song title which was always greeted with cheers. They played a song called ‘Rock Hard Metal Warrior’ and a song called ‘Wild Women Will’. They ended with a cover of ‘Breaking the Law’. Jez had a wireless mic and roamed about the stage, his voice strong and powerful. The rest of the band members were a couple of decades younger than Jez, making him appear to be a wise metal older statesman, leading the inexperienced and getting electric results. There were two things that Jez thought he did well and when he was doing them it was obvious he was in his element. They were music and sex. Sometimes he liked to imagine he was playing himself in a film about his life, he didn’t think anyone else would be able to do the role justice.

 

After an encore and a lot of cheers and even some boy-band style screams Jez Palmer, lead singer and songwriter of The Engine strode off the stage flicking his long, curly blond hair proudly. He congratulated himself regularly that at forty-five he still had a full head of hair where many of his contemporaries had none or worse still wore a meagre pony tail. He even used some product to keep the curls well defined.

 

He went to the bar and got a pint of lager. He didn’t drink much because he was far too conscious of the deleterious effect it could have on his waistline but he liked to appear to be a down to earth, loves a drink, one of the boys’ type of guy. Then he sat on one of the leather sofas in the club on his own and let his eyes wander about the room. He always did this after a gig, sitting away from the rest of his band-mates for twenty minutes or so, giving adoring females a chance to come and tell him how much they enjoyed his music. That alone was usually enough to give him the beginnings of a hard-on. Often the sitting alone plan would backfire and he’d end up with an aged rocker who wanted to chat about amps and pedals.

 

He spotted a few women he thought had the potential to keep him company. Bad company, he thought to himself. He prided himself on being choosy but in practice this meant any women in attendance who didn’t have an obvious husband or boyfriend with them and who had bothered to put some make up on. Jez would decide in the first three minutes whether he was going to pursue a woman or not. If the first thing she said was something about how great his band was then it was on, and he’d chase and sweet talk so he could get his fix of ego-massaging. He probably preferred that to the sex. If the first thing she said was in any way critical or praised other members of the band more than him it was unlikely to lead to anything. Unless she was especially attractive when he might take her home but then give her a disappointing night. Lately he found it hard to perform unless he was told how great he was at performing. Jez longed for the old days, when ‘What’s your sign’ was an acceptable pick up line and when HIV and AIDS were yet to hamper his enjoyment of the perks of being a self-identified rock god. His outlook hadn’t changed much since he was seventeen but the world around him had moved on considerably.

 

While Jez was sat on his own, Ian and Nick came over to say they’d enjoyed The Engine’s set and it was great to play with them.

 

‘That was an incredible gig’. Nick said.

 

‘It’s been great coming to Coventry and playing with the Engine. You’ve got loads of fans here’. Ian said.

 

‘Thank you, you guys put on an excellent show too, full of energy’. Jez replied.

 

Cleo and Jenni wandered over too. Nick reached for Jenni’s hand and Jez noted the gesture. Jez smiled at Jenni and chatted to Nick about song writing for a few minutes, after which Jez switched his attention to Cleo. Jez was always careful to talk to the men in any mixed gender group containing women he was interested in. He was rarely drunk but often found himself among drunken people. He avoided very drunk women. He was polite to very drunk men while holding them in contempt. He thought that drinking too much was a weakness and he seldom did.

 

Jez asked Cleo what she thought of the gig.

 

‘I loved your set. I loved the ‘Breaking the Law’ cover. Your band totally broke the law of awesomeness. ‘Rock Hard Metal Warrior’ was an anthem. I like the alliteration of ‘Wild Women Will’ it makes it sticky in my brain and I like that it’s about women getting what they want’.

 

She suddenly realised she was tipsy and babbling. She had been thinking about how to describe the gig when she wrote her diary later and all her half formed thoughts had tumbled out of her mouth unchecked. She had been rushing around Cov, visiting all her favourite places and she hadn’t had much to eat that day.

 

Jez raised a well kempt eyebrow. ‘High praise indeed’. He smiled.

 

Cleo excused herself and went to the bar. Jez had planned to ask her about Venom, the band on her T- shirt. Talking about music was always a safe topic of conversation with women he’d just met. He watched Cleo go and added her to what he thought of as his hit list. He had also added Suzy to this list and two women who had been dancing enthusiastically during his set.

 

Cleo was delighted to find that the club was still serving food. She ordered a Diet Coke and some chips and went to sit in the chill out area with Phil, Jim and Suzy. Angie and Paul came over too and soon everyone was sat on sofas in a circle eating warm chips with lovely fluffy insides.

 

‘These are the best chips ever’. Cleo said.

 

‘Are they breaking the chip law of awesomeness?’ Ian asked.

 

He often poked fun at her, in that non-malicious way of people who know each other well. He would never poke fun at anything she was genuinely sensitive about. She did tend to use flowery language (a result of studying English) and she did babble when drunk or excited. She knew these were fair criticisms.

 

‘Did I sound like a total doofus?’ She asked.

 

‘You’re our favourite doofus’. He said reassuringly, through a mouthful of chips.

 

Jez walked past and smiled at the group.

 

Phil said ‘look at him swanking about the place’.

 

Jim said ‘That’s what women like. They don’t like us decent, modest guys, they like peacocks’.

 

He said this with a glance at Suzy and they started bickering again. Jim hated this situation. He knew that it was untenable but didn’t know what to do to fix it or even if it could be fixed. He wished he was under a car with a spanner in his hand.

 

While they were eating a promoter approached them and offered the Pandas a gig at an all-day indoor festival in Birmingham he was organising for the end of September. Phil gave him an Eviscerated Panda business card and said he looked forward to hearing from him.

 

After the bands had finished a DJ played rock, metal, punk and goth classics and the dance floor was soon full. Suzy, Cleo and Jenni danced to Judas Priest’s ‘Living After Midnight’ and Dead Kennedy’s ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’ while the Pandas loaded the gear into the van. Angie went to the toilets and found to her dismay that she had started her period. She went outside and discretely told Paul. He hugged her very tightly and whispered

 

‘Give it time. I’m having too much fun trying for it to happen easily’.

 

She smiled at him. She thought she had the best husband in the world, who always knew what to say to make things better. He was going to make a great dad. Angie was impatient because it was something she wanted so, so much, but realised she had a lot to make her happy already.

 

Suzy left Cleo and Jenni dancing to Rancid’s ‘Start Now’ and wandered into the corridor to get a few minutes alone. She’d had to bite her tongue when Jim had started another round of bickering. There was a terminal way to end their arguments but she didn’t want to go nuclear in front of other people who were having fun. There was a big window, overlooking the street below, half way along the corridor. Jez was leaning against the windowsill, framed like a work of art, checking his phone. He smiled at Suzy and said ‘So what did you think of me in action?’

 

She gave him one of her best smiles and took a step closer to him

 

‘I couldn’t get enough of it, I’d have liked more’.

 

Had anyone been watching for the next five minutes they might have thought they were present at the World Series Flirting Championships. Suzy flicked her hair. Jez flicked his hair. She stuck her chest out. He pointed his groin towards her. Eventually she said she needed to go and find her girlfriends and maybe she’d catch up with him later. Before she left he pulled her closer to him and whispered in her ear

 

‘You do know you could get the best lay of your life tonight?’

 

That was music to Suzy’s ears which were sick of hearing harsh criticism and remonstrations.

 

Bon Jovi’s ‘Bed Of Roses’ came on and Cleo and Jenni left the dance floor and went to sit in the chill out area.

 

‘We’ll go and dance again when they stop playing pop music’. Jenni had said.

 

Suzy came to find them. Jenni went outside to find Nick and see how they were doing with loading the van. She was looking forward to spending the night with Nick for the first time and couldn’t get back to Reading fast enough. They had the whole house to themselves for two weeks and Nick had made sure he was working during the day when Jenni was also at work so they could spend most of their evenings together. Jenni was wearing her purple knickers with the quick release ribbons and was hopeful that they would be deployed very soon.

 

The worn leather sofa that Cleo and Suzy were sat on dipped in the middle and made them sit close together, their thighs touching.

 

‘Do you think you’ll patch things up with Jim?’ Cleo asked Suzy. She’d noticed, as had everyone, that all was not right between them.

 

‘I don’t think I can’ replied Suzy, ‘We want very different things from life and it’s not fair to either of us to keep trying to be someone we aren’t. I’m dreading the journey home. I’ve made up my mind. Tomorrow, when we’re both sober I’m going to tell him it’s over’.

 

Suzy was aware that Reading was a small place and they would bump into each other so she wanted them to part on good terms. She had hoped that she and Jim would grow to be more alike or more tolerant of each other but it wasn’t happening. If anything he was becoming more staid and she more outrageous, as each tried to hang on to their personality.

 

Suzy sighed. ‘I’ve got half a mind to stay here tonight and book into a hotel’.

 

‘Sweetie, you can stay in my room, it’s got two beds’. Cleo said.

 

Suzy hugged her to say thank you and kissed her cheek. She left her arm around Cleo, testing to see if Cleo would move away or stay where she was. Suzy was thinking that she might be able to have more fun tonight than she’d had for a long time. Cleo stayed where she was and brushed Suzy’s hair out of her eyes.

 

‘Well then, I guess we ought to tell the boys to go without you and we’d better commence having a good girls’ night’.

 

‘Do you mind telling them?’ Suzy asked. ‘I don’t want to face Jim again this evening, I really think we need to split up but it’s hard because I do love him’.

 

Cleo left Suzy on the sofa and found Ian. They ducked out into the corridor to talk.

 

‘Suzy is going to stay in Cov with me tonight. She’ll talk to Jim tomorrow, when they’ve both sobered up’.

 

‘Okay, well, we’ll head back then’. Ian said. ‘Have a cool day tomorrow, see you soon’.

 

Cleo hugged Ian tightly

 

‘You were amazing tonight’. She said. ‘You should be so proud of yourself’.

 

Cleo went to say goodbye to the rest of the Pandas and then they left. Ian imagined he could still feel the warmth and the pressure of Cleo’s hug. Jenni was looking much happier than is usual or fashionable for a goth Cleo thought. She was happy for her friend and just a bit jealous that she wasn’t going to be the one getting laid tonight. She had looked idly round the club earlier, while she was waiting for her chips, asking herself the question; if I could sleep with anyone present who would I choose? She thought Damon was cute and fun. She adored Ian but not really in that way although it would have pleased her if she did, but she didn’t. Suzy fascinated her but maybe she wanted to be like her, not be intimate with her. She always smelt gorgeous. Jez looked appealing but she thought it might just be the lead singer effect, whereby he seemed more exciting and desirable than he actually was. She wanted to study him up close but politeness forbade it. She tried to imagine him doing dull things like making a cheese sandwich or putting the bins out to see if he would still be appealing.

 

While Cleo was saying goodbye to Ian in the corridor, Jez had joined Suzy on the sofa. He’d invited her back to his house, just ten minutes away. He said two of the band, Chris and Alan were staying over as they lived too far away to get home after midnight. She had said she had arranged to stay with her friend in the Albion Hotel. Jez had said bring her friend back to his house too. When Jez saw Cleo approaching them he moved up the sofa so she’d sit next to him, rather than Suzy. His arm was along the top of the sofa, not quite around Cleo, but with the potential to be. It was half past midnight and the club was open until three. Cleo was wide awake, having had a day off work and a lie-in that day. She had sobered up completely. She became aware that Jez was flirting with both of them and that Suzy didn’t seem to find this odd. Jez went to the bar for drinks.

 

‘We could have a naughty girl’s night out with him’ Suzy said.

 

‘What are you thinking?’ Cleo asked, smiling. She had more than half an idea already, having got to know Suzy well over the last few weeks.

 

‘He’s invited us back to his house’. Suzi said.

 

‘What for?’ Cleo asked.

 

‘Aww, bless you’. Suzy replied. ‘You remember all those DVDs of Phil’s? Well, if you like we can do that live’.

 

Cleo liked the idea and found both Suzy and Jez attractive but also felt hesitant. Sometimes when she was in Coventry it didn’t feel like real life, the way Reading did.

 

Suzy said that she was going to stay at Jez’s and that they would walk her back to the Albion if she liked or they could all go back to Jez’s. Cleo decided that she would regret what she didn’t do more than what she did do and said she’d like to go back to Jez’s. Jez came back from the bar with a diet Coke for Cleo and himself and a Malibu and coke for Suzy. He sat between the girls and said that he would call them a taxi when they’d finished drinking and that Chris and Alan were pretty drunk and would probably crash out not long after they got in.

 

Suzy excused herself and went to the toilets. She checked her phone and found a text from Jim apologising for being grumpy. She switched her phone off. Jim was tomorrow’s problem. She bought condoms and a vibrator from the vending machine in the ladies toilet and put them into the bottom of her handbag. She liked to be prepared for anything. Cleo felt a weird mixture of excitement and shyness, left alone with Jez. He put his arm lightly around her and leaned in close, whispering

 

‘You do know you could get the best lay of your life tonight?’

 

She blushed a lot and put her hand on his leg, tentatively, half way up his thigh. They were disturbed by Alan who said Chris was drunk and he was tired and could they go soon please? Jez went to call a taxi.

 

When Suzy returned from the toilet Cleo giggled while she told her what Jez had whispered in her ear. Suzy didn’t mention that he’d used the same line on her. Like Jez, Suzy had her tried and tested methods to get what she wanted. She found it fascinating how physical contact was negotiated between men and women, men feeling they had to promise it would be worthwhile, women feeling they had to appear to be persuaded. Suzy thought sex was entirely a morally neutral act. She hated the ridiculous double standard that allowed men to do what they liked and made women feel ashamed of their desires.

 

The chill out area was dark and half empty by now. Cleo and Suzy had their arms round each other and Suzy was gently stroking Cleo’s lower back, under her T shirt. Cleo kissed Suzy on the mouth, tasting Malibu and when Jez came back he found the girls kissing. He felt like his cock had won the lottery. They made room for him to sit between them and he said that the taxi would be ten minutes and he was sorry they had the rather tiresome matter of his young and unsophisticated band mates to pour into it too. Cleo and Suzy both said that was fine, they’d help him get them back to his. Jez put his phone on the table to wait for the call from the taxi company. He put an arm round Cleo and an arm round Suzy. Both girls leaned in close and whispered

 

‘You do know you could get the best lay of your life tonight?’ Jez grinned hugely.

 

Suzy’s hand slid across Jez’s thigh and then upwards progressing much more boldly than Cleo’s had done.

 

‘Are you sure you’re man enough for both of us?’ She whispered.

 

Jez’s phone rang to let him know the taxi had arrived. The three of them left the club and found Chris and Alan outside. Jez told them that Cleo and Suzy had missed their last train home and were staying at his. He wasn’t quite sure why he’d said this, but supposed it sounded better than

 

‘I’m hoping to have a threesome with these women’.

 

Jez had never found the journey home so excruciatingly long but eventually it was over. When they got in Chris said he wanted another drink and Alan said he was tired. Chris was persuaded that he didn’t need another drink. He was young and hadn’t yet worked out when to stop drinking. He thought drinking to excess was very rock and roll and what you did when you were in a band. He’d watched ‘Decline of The Western Civilisation Part Two, The Metal Years’ and had not thought Chris Holmes was a complete tit. He’d been sick once that evening already. As far as Jez was concerned Chris would not be in the band much longer. He turned up late to practice and his focus was not on the band but on drinking. He wasn’t the first bass player who would be kicked out of a band for drinking to excess and he wouldn’t be the last.

 

Chris and Alan went to bed on the top floor of Jez’s house and Jez, Suzy and Cleo went into Jez’s room on the first floor.

 

‘Make yourselves comfortable’. Jez said.

 

He’d left his room tidyish as he always did before going out to a gig. He put his i-pod into the dock and selected Danzig’s seventh album, ‘I Luciferi’. This album had been his aural wing man on a number of occasions. Both girls took their shoes off and sat on the big bed. Cleo noticed that the bed had an iron frame and a firm mattress. She tended to notice details, a quality she’d learnt in Coventry while studying that had come back strongly tonight. She mused that she wasn’t sure of the etiquette for this situation. Suzy however was, she had read Neil Strauss’ ‘The Game’ several times (a title which was also on Jez’s book shelf and rooted in his consciousness) and suggested they all give each other a massage, starting with Cleo.

 

Cleo lay on her front, with Jez to her left and Suzy to her right. She felt Suzy’s small hands slide over her back on top of her T-shirt massaging her neck, while Jez’s larger hands massaged her lower back. Jez slid his hand up her shirt and unhooked her bra, then continued massaging under her T shirt. Cleo sat up half way and took her T-shirt and bra off then lay back down. Jez slid the zipper of her skirt down and looked at Suzy. He massaged Cleo’s back while Suzy slid her skirt and tights off. Cleo kissed Suzy and then Jez and said

 

‘Your turn’ to Suzy.

 

Suzy wriggled out of her dress and tights and lay there in a tiny black thong. Cleo swept Suzy’s hair from her neck and kissed all across her shoulders and downwards while Jez massaged her thighs. Jez paused to take his shirt off and loosen his trousers which were becoming unnecessarily tight and obtrusive. He leant over Suzy and kissed Cleo, while sliding his hand in between Suzy’s thighs.

 

There was a massive crash and a thud. All of them paused, startled, forming a very naughty tableau, as they heard;

 

‘Owww! Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!’

 

Chris had been going to get a glass of water and had fallen down the unfamiliar stairs. His head was bleeding badly and his ankle hurt when he put weight on it. Alan had wrapped a T-shirt round Chris’ head and said

 

‘Jez, you’re the only one sober enough to drive’.

 

Jez had never been as irritated with a band mate before and never would be again. He told Alan to grab Chris’ stuff and they’d drive to A&E. He apologised to Suzy and Cleo who had quickly thrown their clothes back on and said he couldn’t say how long he’d be but if they wanted to wait until he returned he’d be delighted. Then Jez, Alan and Chris left.

 

Suzy burst into tears. She was sad about Jim, she was frustrated and she felt like she’d just lost an opportunity that was never going to be repeated. Cleo covered them both in the duvet and hugged her. When she stopped crying Suzy explained how upset she was about her and Jim and that she was sure she was doing the right thing breaking up with him but she’d feel better when the deed was done. She knew if she slept with Jez and Cleo that there was no going back.

 

It was three-thirty in the morning. They decided to go back to Cleo’s hotel room rather than waiting for Jez. They got dressed and left a note on Jez’s pillow which read;

 

Dear Jez, we hope Chris is okay. We’re sorry we didn’t get to party with you more. Your band totally rocks. Big hugs and kisses from Suzy and Cleo.

 

Then they got a taxi and were in Cleo’s room within fifteen minutes. They curled up in one of the beds and fell asleep until Cleo’s alarm went off at eight. Breakfast was served until ten and Cleo had planned to get up, shower, have breakfast, do some shopping then meet friends for a late lunch. She and Suzy showered and dressed. Suzy borrowed Cleo’s T-shirt to wear over her halter neck dress and they went down to breakfast.

 

Cleo had persuaded Suzy that everything would seem better after breakfast. They had coffee and toast and cinnamon pastries. Suzy apologised for being gloomy. Cleo just smiled and said if she wasn’t gloomy when she still had to break up with Jim she’d be unusual and not a very nice person and it was okay. They squeezed hands across the table. Cleo walked Suzy to the station. On the way Suzy asked her not to tell anyone what had happened with Jez because she was still technically with Jim though Jim had agreed that she was allowed to sleep with women. Cleo said she couldn’t honestly say she wasn’t going to tell Jenni but that Jenni was already the trusted keeper of some of Cleo’s biggest secrets.

 

‘That’s cool’ Suzy said. She was trying to spare Jim’s feelings as she felt she’d already trampled on them enough plus she was about to deliver a necessary but unpleasant coup de grâce to their last two years together.

 

‘It’s not easy, trying to have a good time’. She said with a small smile.

 

Cleo waved Suzy off, hoping her train wouldn’t be delayed and that she’d get to see Jim soon and do the difficult deed.

 

Cleo left the station and stood on the bridge crossing the flyover leading into Cov again. She stared out towards Warwick for ages and thought about kissing both Jez and Suzy last night. She couldn’t decide whose attentions she’d liked best. Then she realised she didn’t have to decide. She’d probably never see Jez again. She was looking forward to getting back to Reading to see Jenni. She walked back to town and met her friends for lunch and got caught up in all their gossip about who was doing what now. She left Cov at four and again paused on the flyover. She found that the noise of the traffic seemed to help her think in the same way that sometimes listening to loud, live thrash metal helped her to think. By drowning out the small sounds of the world on the outside sometimes the world inside her made itself heard more clearly.

 

Jenni and Nick had woken up in Jenni’s bed that Saturday morning. Jenni’s purple knickers were on the floor. Jim had woken up with a feeling of foreboding that morning. He knew that he’d see Suzy and he knew that it wouldn’t be pleasant. Jez had left A&E at six-thirty that morning. He’d driven Chris and Alan home. He’d said

 

‘See you at practice’ through partly gritted teeth.

 

Chris had a cut on his head that needed three stitches. He also had a sprained ankle. He quit the band a week later. He was too embarrassed to go to practice. Jez didn’t expect to find Suzy and Cleo waiting for him when he got home at seven-thirty but was still a little disappointed when they weren’t there. He read the note and smiled. He wished they’d left a phone number. He went downstairs and made toast and coffee then sat in bed to eat it. He put his iPod on shuffle and AC/DC’s ‘Love at first feel’ blasted out of his speakers. He finished his breakfast, dealt perfunctorily with his erection and fell asleep until the late afternoon.

 

 

 

Back in Reading it was Saturday night and busy in the Green Man. Jim looked glum. Phil was buying him beer and imparting his wisdom about women. Jim was grateful for the beer but was ignoring the wisdom. Suzy had gone straight to Jim’s when she got back to Reading and broken up with him. Then she’d called Phil and Paul and told them that Jim might need to go out for a beer with the lads. Suzy then showered, had a massive cry and then felt light hearted again. She’d done what she felt was right and wasn’t going to question her decision any longer. Angie and Paul had invited her round for dinner that evening and she’d gratefully accepted. Cleo had called Suzy briefly to check she was home safe. Suzy invited her round for coffee any time.

 

Cleo went to the Green Man to meet Nick, Jenni and Ian. They played the pants game to cheer Jim up. It was a simple game, to play you just had to replace part of a band or artist name with the word pants. They came up with Marilyn Pantson, Pants Sabbath, Motörpants, Pants Thrower, Megapants, Pantsowar, Pants of God, The Pants of Mercy, Fields of the Nephilpants, Pants Tendencies and Zodiac Pantswarp and the Pants Reaction. Pantera was a disappointing name to use in this game and Pantssnake sounded funny but didn’t change the meaning of the band name much.

 

Jenni had invited everyone back to hers as her parents were away. She and Cleo left the pub briefly to go to the supermarket before it shut to get bread and milk. As soon as they got out of the pub they both looked at each other.

 

‘You first’. Cleo said.

 

Jenni told her what having sex with Nick had been like. She used the words big and satisfying. Cleo swore Jenni to secrecy and told her what had happened with Jez and Suzy. Cleo said she’d thought Jez was going to make it near the top of her Gods list but that she didn’t have his number and that maybe it had been one of those things that just wasn’t meant to happen.

 

They bought milk, bread, golden syrup and Fruit Club biscuits (Jim’s favourites). Phil left and got the train home. He had some work to finish in the morning. His time planning never accounted adequately for the black holes in his day caused by his compulsive viewing of salacious material.

 

Jim, Ian, Cleo, Jenni and Nick went back to Jenni’s. They made tea and then sat in the lounge on the big comfy sofas because Pam and Roy weren’t there to be disturbed by them. They talked about the Pandas next gig. Toby, a friend of Nick’s from school had got them a gig in Oxford at one of the student union bars. It was on Friday, at the end of Oxford’s Hilary term and a few of Nick’s old school friends were going.

 

Jim started yawning and said he was going home. Jenni invited him to stay if he wanted but he said he wanted to go and get a good night’s sleep. He hadn’t slept much the night before, thinking that Suzy was going to break up with him. He said he knew it was for the best. He planned to avoid her for a few weeks. This was the fourth time they had broken up and usually they would see each other in the Green Man and make up and then repeat the cycle again. They said goodnight to a sad and stoic Jim, hugging him repeatedly.

 

Ian and Cleo left with Jim. Jim lived in the opposite direction to Cleo and Ian. They let him go after again being assured he was okay. People did fuss he thought. He cut through the park as usual. It reminded him of Suzy. In the summer she liked to make love outside. Jim sat on a swing and cried. He cried in a dignified way, he was always economical with his emotions. There were no snotty snuffling noises, no wailings. But cry he did, which was a rare thing for him.

 

As soon as Jenni shut the front door Nick pressed her up against it and kissed her. Then he pulled her dress over her head and threw it onto the floor. She pulled his T-shirt up over his head and threw it on top of her dress. Nick picked Jenni up and carried her into the lounge, laying her down on the big sofa.

 

‘Can I have a go in your temple of love?’ He asked.

 

She frowned at him and undid the top button of his jeans.

 

Ian and Cleo walked and talked about Jim and Suzy, about how last night’s gig had gone and about Coventry. Cleo desperately wanted to tell him about what had happened with Jez and Suzy but held back. She knew he’d struggle to not use it as further evidence for Jim that he and Suzy weren’t suited for each other. Ian said

 

‘I hope I’m still doing this when I’m forty-five, like that Jez bloke’.

 

Cleo changed the subject. She didn’t want to talk about Jez. He was in the forefront of her mind and she wanted to take him out of there and turn him round and round in the palm of her hand, working out what she felt about him. She wanted to go home and sit in bed writing her diary and putting her thoughts in order, filing him neatly.

 

Ian hugged Cleo at the usual hedge and again outside her house. Jenni and Nick getting together and Jim and Suzy breaking up had made him think about women. He wanted one. Seeing Jenni and Nick so loved up made him want that too.

 

Cleo snuggled up in bed. She wrote a brief description of the previous night’s activities. She wished she had someone in bed next to her. She wrote an amendment to her Gods list, slotting Jez in between Tom Araya and Christopher Lee. She thought briefly that she could look up his band’s website and maybe email him but she decided not to. She thought he’d probably just wanted a pleasurable, no strings attached night and she knew she would be hurt if/when she received no reply from him.

 

Maybe I’m not cut out for decadence and hedonism she wrote in her diary.

 

She wondered how she would have felt if they had gone further and Jez had sex with her and Suzy. She wondered if she could date a woman but decided probably not. She had enjoyed kissing Suzy and being touched by and touching her but she was mostly interested in men. Once she had explored every avenue and alleyway in her mind she closed her diary and fell asleep.

 

Jez had joined the Eviscerated Panda mailing list that evening so he’d find out where and when they were playing next. They only had one gig listed which was on Friday, when he would be playing a gig with the Engine. Jez pleasured himself for the second time that day while imagining Suzy and Cleo though it was Cleo he thought about at the critical moment.

 

 

 

The following week went by quickly for everyone except Jim. For Jim it dragged on and on interminably. Each day he tried to block out thoughts of Suzy. Each morning she was the first thing he thought about when he awoke. He had been on the brink of dialling her number five times on Sunday. Monday was slightly easier during the day while he was at work. He felt lost in the evening, when he would usually have been seeing Suzy. On Tuesday he avoided everyone, fearing he would either snap at them or cry at them. On Wednesday he went for a pint with Ian. Ian knew that Jim would usually see Suzy on Wednesday. Jim knew that Ian knew that he would usually see Suzy on Wednesday and was grateful for Ian’s thoughtfulness. He didn’t say so and they didn’t talk about Suzy. Jim saw no point in talking about how miserable he felt. They stuck to neutral conversational ground like music and their plans for the Pandas.

 

On Thursday afternoon Jim told his colleagues he was single. He hadn’t trusted his voice to not wobble until Thursday and he waited until the end of the day so he wouldn’t have to answer questions about it. He realised he felt like a failure. He’d had what most men claim to dream of, an attractive girlfriend who is up for anything sexual, but it hadn’t made him happy. Realising it hadn’t made him happy helped. What was the point in having something supposedly coveted if you yourself didn’t covet it? By the end of the week he’d developed a firm resolve that he would stop thinking about Suzy and had indeed gone a whole morning without thinking about her when he’d had a lot to do on a car to get it through its MOT. As soon as he finished work on Friday he went straight to Phil’s and helped Paul load the gear into the van. He had decided that keeping busy was his best option. Angie had hugged Jim and told him she was sorry. She told Jim she and Paul had seen Suzy for dinner and that she was finding it hard too. Jim grimaced. It was going to be hard to forget something that people kept mentioning.

 

Nick, Jenni, Cleo and Ian had been given a lift to Oxford by Julian, a friend of Nick’s from school who was going to stay over in Oxford with Toby. He looked briefly surprised when Nick told him he worked in a supermarket but covered it well, thinking it polite to do so. Most of their contemporaries had gone on to higher education, or to working in family businesses or to banking or similar high flying careers. Nick told Julian it was only a matter of time before Eviscerated Panda became a full time job.

 

The conversation then turned to books. Julian had read English at Cambridge. He and Cleo had many favourite books in common, George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’, Ben Elton’s ‘Blind Faith’ and Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ among them. Julian was impressed that Ian worked in IT and that Jenni was going to start a Master’s degree in Biotechnology in October. He hoped that the band would work out for his friend Nick. He was genuinely surprised that someone from his school would work in a supermarket, in the same way that Cleo, Jenni and Ian would be genuinely surprised if someone from their school had got a job that was not working in a supermarket or factory.

 

Julian took them to Toby’s halls of residence to park the car and they walked to the Union bar where the rest of the Pandas were sitting having a very reasonably priced drink. Toby greeted them all and thanked them for coming. As President of the Ents committee he gave the band two hundred and fifty pounds for playing that evening. He explained it was the end of term social and he’d wanted something a bit more exciting than the usual covers band. He was sure his old mate Nick’s band would be splendid. Toby and Julian were warm and considerate hosts. They introduced the Pandas and Cleo, Jenni and Angie to their friends. Jim made a new friend, a girl named Antonia who was impressed with Jim being a mechanic.

 

‘I’ve never met anyone that did a proper job, how delightful’. She joked.

 

Jim surprised himself by making easy conversation with her.

 

‘Well, what do you do all day?’ He asked.

 

‘I write essays which are the same essays thirty other people are also writing so they aren’t even original’. She replied with a sigh.

 

‘I fix cars, have some lunch then fix cars some more’. He smiled.

 

‘It must be great to do something useful’. She gushed.

 

Jim felt a sense of pride. This pretty, well-spoken woman thought he was useful.

 

‘What do you do for fun?’ He asked her.

 

‘I go to the bar. Sometimes, like tonight I’m lucky and I meet someone handsome and interesting to talk to’.

 

At this point Jim reluctantly had to stop talking and play the gig. When the Pandas took to the stage it didn’t seem to be what most people were expecting. For the first few songs the audience mostly stared at them and clapped politely when they thought a song had ended. There were usually more black T-shirts in the audience Nick reflected. He won them over by asking

 

‘Are you ready for the summer hols? Are you going to dance for me? Does Oxford party harder than Cambridge?’

 

A lot of the audience were very drunk and affirmatively cheered anything Nick said. There was a tangible school’s out feeling in the bar. There was a small enclave of dancing and head banging to the right of the stage where Jenni, Cleo and Angie were standing. Cleo had noticed that the audience was not as metal as usual. She and Jenni wandered to the front of the stage and windmill head banged encouragingly. People pointed.

 

The Pandas played their set extremely well. Jim was very wooden. He wanted to flaunt his useful bass skills then realised he wasn’t sure how to apart from standing and playing bass. This thought process inhibited him even more than usual. Phil paraded about the stage. He both swanked and swaggered. When he wasn’t doing either of those he strutted. Jim attempted to move a bit further forward. Then he lost his nerve and moved a bit further back again. He had the look of a man who has come into a room for something and then forgotten what it was he had wanted.

 

By half way through the set part of the crowd was dancing, part of the crowd had left the room and the rest of the crowd stood and stared, many of them wobbling slightly. Nick introduced each member of the band. All received cheers, whoops and applause. When he introduced Jim there was a girlish scream from Antonia as well. He introduced the song ‘Alucard’ saying

 

‘Listen to us, children of the night, what music we make’.

 

He could think of nothing clever to say to introduce ‘Screaming Green Murder’ or ‘Angry Ever After’ and made a mental note to find something to say about these songs in future. He had been impressed by Jez’s stage presence last weekend and wanted some of that for himself. When Nick introduced the last song ‘Unevil Genius’, he wandered over to stand at Ian’s side. Ian was pointing his guitar and his attention at Cleo. Cleo couldn’t see this because her hair was in her face. They didn’t bother with an encore of a Slayer cover, guessing that the audience wouldn’t lap it up like they did in the Edge Bar.

 

When they came off stage they hung around in the bar for an hour and enjoyed more reasonably priced drinks.

 

‘Woah! That was incredible!’ Antonia told Jim.

 

Toby thanked them for a memorable performance. Julian was very complimentary. He told Nick he wished he could play an instrument proficiently. He’d given up the violin while they were at school together and wished he’d stuck at it, as Nick had with the guitar. Nick felt validated. He got little self-esteem from his job amongst his University friends but being in the Pandas seemed to have kudos value. Various people came up and offered congratulations. Ian felt like part of a freak show to start with but then he relaxed. They were viewed with fascination, not with hostility. The Student Union bar was an odd environment for a thrash band, dissimilar to anywhere he’d played before. Paul was used to playing to an audience that was only half watching. When he’d played in a covers band at weddings and parties there had always been sections of the audience who continued chatting. He had the least good view of the audience anyway and was unperturbed.

 

Nick, Jenni, Cleo and Ian left to get the train home to Reading, leaving Phil, Angie, Paul and Jim to load the van and drive home. They stood on the cold platform. Oxford station was small compared to Reading and it had nowhere to shelter on the platform. They had left Reading in warm sunshine and in the way of young people they had forgotten it would be cold later. They hadn’t even thought about the later. They had been too busy enjoying the now. Nick and Jenni cuddled up. Cleo sat on the blue metal bench that was concreted into the platform. She stood up again quickly. It was horribly chilly. She read the departures display board. Three minutes to Reading and London Paddington. The next train on the other platform was due in fifteen minutes, destined for Birmingham International, calling at Leamington Spa and Coventry. She thought back to when they had been in Coventry just a week ago and she shivered.

 

‘Are you cold?’ Ian asked.

 

‘Freezing’. She replied.

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Sarah Tipper