"Damn it!" Lynn cried out as her heel caught in a crack in the sidewalk. She managed to catch her balance before falling, but not before her purse tumbled out of her arms. She bent over to get it and snared her pantyhose on the bags zipper.
"Okay, okay," she said out loud to herself, "just calm down. This is not the end of the world. This may be the worst evening of your life, but you can make it." Certainly there were worse things than being lost in the city at night. Of course, at the moment she couldnt think of a single one. She should have never stormed off. The anger was justifiable, but the getting lost was just plain stupid. She should have walked out of the hotel and immediately grabbed a cab back to Port Authority. She could have been halfway home by now!
Instead, she slowly continued down the street, teetering in high-heeled shoes that she should have never worn. She was bound to come across an open restaurant, bar, or coffee house sooner or later. This was, after all, New York City. Although she knew relatively little about the place, she did know, at least from the song, that it was the city that never sleeps. Something had to be open on this Monday evening. The street she was walking down was curiously empty, which worried her. She had no idea where she was. Nothing seemed to be open. She couldnt have wandered into a bad neighborhood, could she? She desperately needed a ladies room and a hot cup of coffee. She could sit down, get her bearings, and figure out what to do next.
A small coffee shop appeared in the distance. On closer inspection she saw that the sign in the front window said "OPEN." That was all the invitation Lynn needed. She pushed open the door. It was dark and deserted except for three or four people. The air had an odor. It wasnt bad, just stale. Probably smoke, she thought as she noticed a man in a corner booth puffing away. At the only other occupied table, a couple sat in deep conversation, not even looking her way when she entered.
"You have a ladies room?" she asked the man at the counter. He was large, not only tall but bulky as well. He reminded her a bit of Herman Munster. In this light his complexion did seem a little gray/green.
He looked at her oddly, but said nothing. He just stared with dark eyes
"I need a bathroom and a cup of coffee, in that order," she said, trying to sound confident but not unreasonable. The way he was looking at her, she felt as if he could zap her out of existence with his glaring.
"You dont belong here." His voice was deep, as she had suspected.
"Look, I just want a cup of coffee and a bathroom. "
"Let her stay," said the man in the corner booth, blowing a smoke ring up to the ceiling.
"She doesnt belong here," the counterman repeated.
"Lets say shes with me."
The counterman laughed. "Yeah, right. Shes with you."
The smoker took another puff on the cigarette. "You must have a bathroom in this joint. In the back?"
The counterman nodded. "Yeah, sure, in the back."
"Thanks." Lynn headed towards the back of the shop. She came upon a lone door and opened it. In the dark, she could make out a sink and toilet. She groped around the wall with her left hand until she found a light switch. The bathroom was dingy but not too dirty. She stepped in and shut the door behind her, locking it.
She turned on the tap in the sink and ran some water over her hands. When the water was warm, she splashed some on her face. Looking into the cloudy mirror that hung over the sink, she saw a woman with swollen, red, mascara-streaked eyes and a runny red nose. She wiped the mascara away with her left hand and blew her nose into a piece of toilet paper. There wasnt much she could do about the swollen eyes now. She tried to fluff out her windblown hair, but she still looked totally disheveled. That was what she was going to have to settle for until she got home, at whatever ungodly hour that might be. She opened her purse and found a bus schedule. The next bus wasnt scheduled to leave until nearly midnight. Well, shed have plenty of time for coffee and to find a cab to take her back to Port Authority. She needed to take the time to calm down and try to relax.
She washed her hands and blew her nose again before she stepped out. The staleness of the room assaulted her again when she opened the door. Funny, it had faded when she was in the ladies room. She made her way back to the counterman.
"Your coffees with him," he said in a monotone, gesturing towards the smoker.
She was tempted to make a sarcastic remark, but the countermans size intimidated her. She made her way over to the corner booth.
"Have a seat," said the man.
She shouldnt, she knew. There was something about this place that just didnt feel right. But there was something about this man. He looked strangely familiar. Against her better judgment she slid into the seat across from him.
He took one last puff on his cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray. "Coffees good here."
She took the creamers that sat on the edge of the saucer and dumped them into the cup. She stirred, the spoon making an eerie clattering sound. Cautiously she took a sip. It wasnt bad. More important, it was warm.
"Warms you up, doesnt it? You look like you could use some warming."
Unsure of what he was implying, she changed the subject. "You come here often?"
He laughed. "No, luv, its my first time. Though I dont think it will be my last."
It was the "luv" that gave him away. "Youre John Lennon, arent you?"
"I might have been at one time," he said, smiling and lighting up another cigarette from the pack that lay on the table.
"You shouldnt smoke," she chided him. "Does terrible things to the lungs."
He laughed again. "Doesnt much matter to me any more." He took a long drag. "How did you manage to end up here?"
"I dont know. I got lost."
"That much is obvious," he said, but the words were aimed more towards the man at the counter than her.
"I cant believe Im sitting here with John Lennon. When I tell my friends. "
"They wont believe it either," he finished for her. "I suppose youre a fan."
"Who isnt? Ive heard your new single on the radio. I really like it."
"You ought to run out and get the album then."
Lynn smiled and took another sip of her coffee. "I will, tomorrow, I promise."
"You do that. So, where are you from?" He looked upward and watched the smoke blow from his lips.
"And what brought you to the big city on this dark and dreary night?"
"A Christmas party. Can you believe it? Its barely December, but my boyfriends company has this big party every year. He works in the city. I took the bus in to go with him, but. "
"He dumped you."
"I dumped him!" Lynn said indignantly.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course Im sure."
"Then what are you doing here?"
"I told you, I got lost. I told him to fuck off and. "
"Catch him with another woman, did you?"
"How did you know?"
He shrugged. "Hes a man. Men are pricks. I know." He tapped the long ash into the ashtray that sat in front of him.
"Because youre a man, or because youre a prick?"
"Either, both. Ive done my share of stupid things. Ive been a major fuck-up at times. Ive been a good guy too, though. I hope Im remembered more for the good than the fuck-ups."
"Dont we all. Roger was a major fuck-up. "
"Youre better off without him."
"Will you stop finishing my sentences? Its very disconcerting."
He smiled. "Sorry."
Lynn felt ashamed. Shed just yelled at one of musics biggest legends. Had it been any other day, any other time, she would have been fawning all over him. "Im sorry too. I shouldnt have snapped. Youve been very kind. Im sure that you have better things to do with your time."
"Not now. Now Im just waiting."
"For who? For what?" It was really none of her business, but she asked anyway, not really knowing why.
"Friends? This doesnt much seem like a. "
"Place to be greeting loved ones?" He finished her sentence again. "Sorry." He stubbed out the cigarette. "I didnt intend on ending up here tonight either. But things happen. And so here we are."
"Yes," she took another sip of coffee. Already it was getting cold. "I suppose I should figure out what Im going to do next."
"Youre going to go back up the block and make a right. Youll find yourself a cab and go back to the bus station. Youll hop on that bus back to Pennsylvania. Youll do a lot of thinking on that bus. Youll do a lot of thinking when you get back to your apartment. And eventually youll come to the painful conclusion that it was all for the best. Youll go on. Everything does, you know. He wasnt right. It wasnt right. Youll move on."
"You want to tell me the rest of my future? Im nearly 30 years old. Will I ever find my Prince Charming? Will we have our very own 2.5 children and a house with a white picket fence?"
"Im not a fortune teller. Your life is yours. Im just telling you what Ive learned. Past experience and all that. Life gives you experiences, good and bad. You take from both, learn from them and go on. So take some time to think, and then move on. Weep and moan all you want, but eventually learn from it. Maybe Mr. Right is out there for you. Maybe hes not. Either way youve still got a life to live. Only you can decide if youre going to live it or waste it. My advice would be not to waste it. Theres a lot out there to take in. Take in as much as you can because you never know when. "
"Itll all end?"
He nodded and lit up another cigarette.
She laughed. "It must be catching, now Im finishing your sentences."
"Must be. Youve got a nice laugh, Lynn. Life is all about laughing you know."
"Half an hour ago, I wouldnt have thought laughter was possible. Thank you."
"One last kind deed," he replied.
Lynn looked up to see a young man standing by the table. She hadnt noticed him come in, but then shed been staring at John and engrossed by the sound of his voice.
John smiled and stood. He embraced the young man. "Stu, I thought it might be you."
The young man smiled. "It had to be me. Wasnt going to let it be anyone else. Though I did bring someone along with me." He gestured towards the door.
"Julia," John whispered.
"She didnt want to upset you."
Lynn pushed herself out of booth seat and stood. She was feeling very uncomfortable. It was obvious that she was witnessing something intensely personal. Something that she should have no part of. The air seemed even more oppressive. Smoky, stale, and almost lifeless. "Id better be going," she said softly. "Thanks for the coffee and the conversation."
John turned and took her hand.. "Sorry luv. I have to go too. You just do what I said. Go to the end of the block, take a right and catch a cab. Before you know it youll be on the road home. Thats where you belong."
Her hand tingled as he held it. "Thank you. Ill never forget. "
"I know. One day we may meet again. Have another chat. I have a feeling that weve got quite a lot in common."
"Id like that."
"I know," he smiled and kissed her hand. "You go now."
She turned and walked away. She ignored the counterman, who was still glaring at her. And as she passed the woman who stood near the doorway, obviously waiting to approach John, she heard her whisper, "Hes a good boy."
She opened the door and stepped out into the dark street. She went back the way she came and made a right at the end of the block, just as John had told her. She had only gone a few feet when she saw a cab sitting at a red light just up the block. She ran as quickly as her high heels would allow and waved at the driver. He waited, even as the light changed, and Lynn climbed in the back. "Port Authority, please."
He nodded to indicate that he had heard her, but said nothing.
Lynn closed her eyes for a moment. Or she thought it was only a moment. The driver had stopped. She opened her eyes and realized they had arrived. She looked down at her wristwatch and saw that she only had ten minutes before the bus would be leaving. She quickly routed through her purse and pulled out a ten. She gave it to the driver and got out of the cab, not waiting for any change. As quickly as she could, she made her way to the gate. The bus was already boarding when she got there.
The ride was quiet. At this late hour, even though the bus nearly full, there was no chatter. Lynn thought nothing of it and let herself fall asleep.
She awoke with a start. The bus was just pulling into her station. She had slept though the first two stops, and the bus was now only a quarter full. She got off with five other people. It was getting colder, she noticed as she stepped out. Anxiously, she got into her car and started it up. The heater had just started to warm it when she pulled into her parking space at her apartment complex.
The evening seemed unnaturally still. Usually there was some sort of activity around the building. It was nearly two in the morning, Lynn told herself. It did seem a little creepy, though. She was glad when she was safely locked inside her apartment. She turned on all the lights once she was inside. Nothing was amiss, yet there was something bothering her. She checked each roomno one was hiding in the living room, kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom. She undressed and turned off the lights.
Yawning, she climbed into bed, not even bothering to brush her teeth. After the evenings events, she couldnt believe how tired she was. She should have been crying over the loss of Roger. But some how he didnt seem all that important any more. She should have been marveling over the fact that she had actually met John Lennon. But instead it all seemed so normal, and yet surreal. Sleep once again came quickly.
She awoke to the news the next morning. She shook her head, trying to clear it. Had the newscaster really said that John Lennon was dead? It couldnt be possible.
She went into the living room and turned on the television. It was on every station. John Lennon was dead. But it couldnt be. Shed just seen him. In the coffeehouse. He was smoking. She remembered it very clearly. Sitting with him in the dim light.
There must be some mistake. But no, how could it be? John Lennon was dead, yet shed just spoken to him. Hadnt she? She couldnt have imagined the whole thing, could she?
She went over to the chair where she had thrown her dress. It still smelled of smokethe smoke from the cigarettes that John had been smoking. Hed told her she had a nice laugh. Hed said her name. And then she realized shed never told him that. Hed just said it casually, as if hed already known it. As if hed already known her. "I have a feeling we have quite a lot in common." She remembered him saying it, and knowing deep inside that it was somehow true.
None of it made sense. And though she tried to go on with her life that day, and for the rest of the week, it kept gnawing away at the back of her head.
She got back on the bus to New York that Saturday. This time the bus was packed, and it wasnt quiet. There was music, Johns music, and there were people talking and crying.
She didnt get lost this time. She followed the rest of the crowd from the bus. She even shared a cab with two of them. Everyone was going to the same place.
She stood there with them in Central Park, silently. But it was still there in the back of her mind. Shed been with John that night. She had talked to him. Shed had coffee with him in that dark and dingy coffee house. She couldnt have imagined it. It was real. She knew it was real.
But afterwards, she went searching for the place. And she couldnt find it.
For a couple of months that winter she went into the city every Saturday, searching for that coffee house, but she never found it again. She traipsed up and down many streets. She walked many miles. But it was nowhere to be found.
By the spring of 1981, she gave up and did her best to forget all about it. Although over the years that meeting would spring up in her memory at the oddest times. Each time she would brush it away and go on with her life.
Fifteen Years Later
Exhausted, Lynn let the nurse help her into the cab. She wished Marc could have accompanied her to the hospital, but he had used up most of his vacation time already. They couldnt afford to have him take any unpaid time off. Ever since she had gotten sick, the money they had been saving for their retirement had been poured into hospital bills.
Nausea overtook her as she gave the driver her address. She vowed that she would not throw up again. Shed spent over an hour after the chemo session retching. Now all she wanted to do was go home, curl up in bed, and sleep. If she could sleep. As tired as she was, insomnia had settled in, and she spent many nights rereading old books and watching bad movies on the Late Late Show.
She stared out the cab window, eyes half open. Watching the buildings go by did nothing to make the time go faster. She just wanted to be at home.
It was then that she saw it. She gasped, and then quickly told the driver to pull over. She opened her purse and handed some money to him without even bothering to count it. She got out of the taxi and quickly walked towards the little shop.
After all these years it still looked the same. The same dingy sign hung in the front window, letting her know that the place was still open.
She opened the door. It was still dark and dank inside. But the stale smell that had assaulted her nostrils all those years ago was gone. Instead, the air was filled with the aroma of fresh coffee. It was warm and inviting, even if the décor was not.
She stepped inside and inhaled the scent of coffee. The nausea had suddenly disappeared and she longed for a piping hot cup of the stuff.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw that she was alone, except for a waitress behind the counter.
"Afternoon," the waitress said, acknowledging Lynns presence. "How can I help you?"
"Coffee," Lynn replied. "It smells heavenly in here."
The waitress smiled. "I just made a fresh pot. How about a piece of double chocolate cake to go along with it?"
Lynns stomach growled at the thought. "That sounds fantastic."
"Have a seat. Youve got the run of the place."
"So I see. This place is even more deserted than the last time I was here."
The waitress looked at her quizzically. "Youve been here before?"
"About fifteen years ago. The guy behind the counter didnt make me feel very welcome at the time."
"Thatd be Hank. He isnt really a people person."
"Hes in the wrong business then."
"Maybe," the waitress replied. "Maybe not. You go sit down and relax."
Lynn headed towards that same booth where she had sat way back when. She slid into the seat and ran her hands over the wooden table. It felt cool under her hands. She looked around again. The place was deserted, but then, it was the middle of the afternoon. It still had no atmosphere, but the smell of that coffee .
The waitress appeared with a steaming cup and a huge slice of cake. "You sit back and enjoy."
"Thanks, I will." She took a big forkful of the cake. It was the most delicious thing she had ever tasted. She took another bite and washed it down with the coffee. Food hadnt tasted this good, ever.
Then she realized that besides the nausea, her headache and tiredness had disappeared as well. For the first time in so many months, she actually felt good. She smiled. How nice it was just to feel at peace with herself.
She hadnt heard him come over, but his voice came as no surprise. It had quite suddenly and simply all slipped into place. She turned and smiled. "Hello, John."
"May I have a seat?"
"Sure. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?"
"No time. I told you we might meet again."
"Yes, you did. And here you are."
"Here I am. That cake looks good."
"It is. You want a bite?"
He shook his head. "Finish it up. You deserve it."
She eagerly finished it off as he watched her.
"Well," he said. "Are you ready now?"
"Im here for you."
"Turns out we have a lot more in common than youd think. They could have sent someone else, but somehow, I just thought it was appropriate, you being in the city and all. You dont mind, do you?"
She smiled again. "I cant think of a better escort. Im touched."
"You should be," he joked. He stood and offered her his hand. "Come on then. Well have plenty of time for that chat now. Been wanting to talk to you again for nearly sixteen years."
She pushed herself up and took it. Together they walked out into the bright sunlight, hand in hand.
Beth Shorten has been writing since she was in third grade (and still has the beat-up old notebooks to prove it). She is Editor Emeritus of the Beatles fanzine Octopus' Garden, which she founded in 1990. Though writing is her passion, it doesn't always pay the bills, so she is best known as the Marketing Manager at Weltman Plumbing Heating & Air. She and her husband Steve live in New Jersey.