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An excerpt from

Comeback

Chris Limb

Clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk… Squeeeeeeeeeeeee…

Genie opened her eyes and found herself staring at some grubby tiles from a distance of about two inches. There was a grey blob of chewing gum stuck to one of them. OK. That was a bit odd.

Clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk… Squeeeeeeeeeeeee…

What was that bloody noise? The memory of what she had just been doing flooded back into her consciousness filling her nerves with a cold liquid thrill. Either the inside of her walk-in wardrobe had undergone a radical change of décor without her knowledge or… it had worked. She’d done it. What next? It occurred to her that she was lying face down on the ground. Standing up was probably in order.

Clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk… Squeeeeeeeeeeeee…

She climbed to her feet, wincing at the sooty grime that was already all over her hands and the front of her dressing gown. The dressing gown. Shit!  She’d wanted to get changed.

Her head was much clearer than it had been back in the flat. She looked about. She was in a dimly lit hallway decorated with purple and cream ceramic tiles and filled with unpleasant warm air that smelled of burnt dust and urine. There wasn’t an obvious way out, but a short distance in front of her the chamber turned sharply through a right angle.

Clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk-clunk… Squeeeeeeeeeeeee…

It was from here that the irritating noise emanated. Squaring her shoulders she strode forwards and around the corner, careful not to step in the occasional puddles which she had a nasty suspicion were the source of the worst part of the general odour. At least she didn’t feel dizzy and sick any more.

Around here the ceiling fell away upwards to at least twice its previous height and the area was better lit too. In front of her a narrow shaft led away downwards at a sharp angle containing the source of the noise - two old fashioned wooden escalators. Both going down.

She eyed the shiny metal teeth between which the battered slats of the steps continuously extruded. She felt nervous and a little physically vulnerable. There was definitely something wrong about going barefoot on an escalator, but then again the whole situation was now beyond anything she’d ever experienced. Before she could change her mind she ran onto the left hand one and was swept along the short horizontal stretch and down onto the steep incline.

There were no posters on the walls, just more of the purple and cream tiles. The flat area between the two escalators contained ornate art deco up-lighters every couple of metres that cast blobs of jaundiced light on the curved ceiling overhead. And ahead of her…

Down.

The escalators stretched to infinity, with perfect perspective. The dizziness returned and she closed her eyes, gripping the black rubber handrail. She was on her way.

***

The following Friday afternoon Genie was in another cab—this time a private hire—with Malcolm. It was ferrying them from Chelsea to White City. Genie wasn’t sure how Malcolm had swung it, but she was going to sing on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Of course if Malcolm was right about the impending BRIT it could only be good for the show too, but nevertheless Genie was getting spasms of nervousness, the feeling that she was out of her depth. The worry that she would be revealed as a fraud.

She stared out of the window at the January streets. It was raining again, the clouds an oppressive low ceiling. She had another headache coming on. Since the BRIT nominations she’d been well behaved and had only been out after midnight twice—at Malcolm’s insistence! —but was still feeling run down and had become prone to sudden migraines. What she wanted was a holiday. Somewhere hot, but with interesting things to look at as well.

And she wanted a boyfriend. According to Malcolm that was also what she needed. As far as the tabloids were concerned she’d been spotted out and about with some of the right people on several occasions, which had certainly set tongues wagging, but in reality nothing had happened. True, there’d been that journalist from that muso magazine the previous year but that had only lasted for a week. At least it had got her a good write up. But now apparently she needed someone cute to be seen with, a human ornament who would put a fresh spin on the Genie DC press-machine.

She needed someone who would behave himself. She wanted someone genuine, a friend as well as a lover. Someone who was interested in the real her. She missed Wendi.

“We—or rather you—just need some good looking guy,” Malcolm had said, “someone compliant who’s already in the public eye. Doesn’t matter if they’re dim as long as they’re pretty. Could even be a girl, if you’re that way inclined—would certainly help appeal to the gay fan base. But whatever. Your choice.”

Genie wondered how much he knew about what had happened between her and Wendi. She opened her bag and popped a couple of painkillers. Malcolm, on the phone again, glanced over. It had started to annoy Genie that he always seemed to be right about everything and knew it. At first she’d been grateful that there was someone around who knew what they were doing and she had acquiesced to his every suggestion, but recently she’d been feeling a bit disgruntled. They kept telling her that she was the Talent, that she was wonderful, that she was amazing—but shouldn’t this mean that she got to say what she did sometimes? Still, at least he was a reliable source of Colombian marching powder.

The taxi decelerated and swung right into the checkpoint behind which BBC Television Centre sprawled.

Once they were out of the spacious metal and glass foyer it was far less glamorous. The corridor curved away to the left, a door every few metres, the grubby red carpet deadening the sound. Genie felt as if the curvature was speeding her up, giving their journey a false sense of urgency.

Malcolm stopped, and Genie overshot him and had to backtrack a few steps. He stood outside a door marked Genie DC.

Inside, a couple of swivel chairs stood in front of a formica dressing table that took up the whole length of the mirror-covered wall. A clothes rail ran along the opposite side of the room, upon which Genie recognised that annoying silver dress. She realised that those bloody shoes were probably somewhere as well.

There was a distinct odour of Febreze.

“All your stuff’s here.” Malcolm dropped a laminated pass onto the dressing table. “I’ll let you get on with it and send someone from makeup along in twenty minutes or so, OK? After that I’ll come back and take you along to the meet and greet before the sound-check.” Without waiting for a reply he slipped out. Genie listened to his retreating footfalls before dropping herself into a swivel chair and giving it a spin, pulling faces at herself in the mirror on each rotation.

She stood up and, feeling dizzy, walked over to a narrow door at the back of the room that revealed a grimy en-suite shower and toilet, tiled in Victoria Line grey. The showerhead dripped and had obviously been doing so for a long time: the beginnings of a baby stalagmite were visible next to the plughole.

A quarter of an hour later, having showered, changed and treated herself to a quick top-up, Genie was feeling a lot better. Scrutinising her reflection, she could see the appeal of the silver dress now—its gaudiness diverted attention from her height which deep down she was still uncomfortable with.

She still hated the bloody shoes with their bloody heels.

There was a knock.

“Are you decent?”  A male voice. South African.

“Mm-hh…” Genie sat down at the dressing table, deciding to leave the shoes until the last minute.

A short, whip-thin man with bright red hair slid around the door. He was dressed in a tight black vest and skinny jeans.

“I’m Art.”

Genie was confused.

“Er… I’m music?” she hazarded.

The man snorted.

“No, silly… Art. Artie. I’m makeup. And you must be Genie.” He reached out for the second swivel chair and mounted it backwards, sliding over to Genie and peering at her face.

“Right. So what have I got to work with here?” Close up Genie could see that he was older than his hair and style of dress indicated, his intense eyes peering out at her from a nest of deep wrinkles. There was a trace of stale coffee on his breath.

“My, you are pretty, aren’t you?”

Genie was won over.