Late In The Evening
by Britt Terry-Smith
I sat there, watching her mouth, and not really listening. I heard the sounds she made, but not her words. That mouth—I found myself staring at it all the time, just watching. I’m not going to say it was made for kissing, or anything trite like that. It was made for eating rather. Every time I envisioned her, I pictured her eating. We went for ice cream once, and I was transfixed. She ate big spoonfuls, like she’d never tasted the stuff before. But she seemed to savor each bite; she enjoyed it being there. I suppose she’d eat strawberries that way too. Devouring a whole pint, but taking all day to do so.
“Are you listening to me?” she asked. Her eyebrows formed an inverted V.
“Yes. Keep going.”
“I asked you a question.”
“Why not?” My attempt to be mysterious.
She pulled on her sideways grin. “Come on, then. Let’s go somewhere.”
I didn’t need much persuading. The sun had broken out of the clouds for the first day in awhile. It wasn’t warm enough to melt the deeper snowdrifts, but the ice glazing the branches had begun to drip.
“On your feet. You’ve been cooped up in here too long. Put down your pencil and walk with me.”
She gathered my coat and gloves and wound a scarf around her own neck. I pushed scattered papers into a neater pile. Among my things was a snapshot of Anna, not a very good one. She was laughing at someone or something, her head flung back, her eyes squinched shut and her mouth open. She never photographed well. Film couldn’t quite capture her way of moving. Anna was hardly graceful, but she moved like a bird. Flitting around, easily distracted, never still.
We checked the door to make sure it was locked before turning up the street. The air was brisk and burned my chest as I inhaled. Anna’s eyes looked a little red as she turned to me.
“So what have you been working so hard at doing? You haven’t had your head out of that book all day, luv.”
“Just some English. A paper. A bit of drawing.”
“Yes, I can see that. You’ve got a smudge on your face.” She nudged me with her elbow as she laughed.
“Thanks for telling me.”
“Ah, Paul, you’re not going to pout, are you?”
“I might.” She laughed again at my turned down mouth, and she linked her arm in mine as we continued. “ How about coffee?”
“You read my mind. Looks like spring will be here sooner than we think.”
“Let’s hope so. It’s been terribly cold this year.”
“It has. And colder still since we haven’t had you around in awhile.” I glanced at Anna to see if she was teasing me again. I didn’t see that wicked glimmer in her eyes when she was kidding. I hadn’t been around lately. Or rather, I’d been around too much, not here, not home. Certainly not at school, which is where I should have been spending most of my time. And it was the reason I’d been trying to study today, furiously. I’d see soon enough if my compressing of time would help me. School had never been particularly hard, but when it was, I could slide by. Always did, so hopefully this time it would work.
“You missed me?”
“We all do. Who’ve I got to study with now? No one to exchange notes with in class.” I could tell she was joking now. Anna wouldn’t dream of breaking the rules like that. “But really, we do miss you when you’re gone.”
“I’ve only been gone for a bit.”
“Still. We miss you.”
“We or you?” I playfully jabbed my forefinger at her shoulder. She averted me and gave me that grin. “Where does a fellow get a girl like you?”
“Speke,” she said matter-of-factly. And it was true. Anna had lived down the block from me before we moved, but I never met her until I was at the Institute. I can’t recall the exact day I saw her, but Anna was hard to miss. She was sitting on a bench in a courtyard, near our school. I assumed she attended a school nearby. She was bent over a book, scratching notes in the margins. Because she wore her hair shorter than most girls, when Anna leaned over to write, I could see the long line of her neck.
I was off to lunch that day, I pointed out that the books weren’t hers and that she’d probably get in trouble for defacing school property. She jumped-- I startled her, I’m sure-- looked at me keenly and told me to sod off, or something like that. I was left standing speechless until she turned back to me, laughing. I felt my face growing warm, despite myself, and asked her if she’d sit with me at lunch. My friendship with Anna began with an exchange insults, like most friendships among boys do. But I’d never heard a girl be so bold, not around here anyway.
We stole into the Casbah, Mona Best’s subterranean coffee bar. Not many people here so early in the afternoon, but we decided to stay anyway. I hadn’t realized how garish it was in the daylight. Mrs. Best had convinced Stu and John to paint the toilets and some of the walls. The jumbled colors and odd figures looked out of place—bizarre. Not that their artwork was much different at night. But when a band played, the cellar was jammed with people, hardly any room to move. I loved to be here then. Today the Casbah was just a diversion for me.
Anna sat across from me absent-mindedly stirring her coffee. “You’re quiet, Paul.”
“Yes. You’ve hardly said anything the whole time.”
“I’m thinking about my paper.”
“Don’t give me that lot, McCartney. What’s really bothering you?”
“Nothing.” She reached over and pinched my arm. “Ow!”
“That’ll teach you to lie.”
“You’re not helping matters by pinching me.”
“I’m sorry. But something is bothering you. You’ve hardly spoken.” Anna was up and across the room, getting her coffee warmed. Before I could respond, she was behind me, her hand on my shoulder. “Are you going to tell me or am I going to have to pinch you again?”
“No, don’t go pinching. I’m not sure what’s the matter. Too much happening, I guess.”
“Hmm. Your band then?” She patted my hand.
“Yeah. Mostly. And these finals. I can’t really concentrate. I know I need to.”
“You’re just worried, I think. Why are we talking about school again anyway?”
“Good question. I wish it’d be over.”
“Well, it is—practically. You’ll do well, Paul. You always have.”
“ I know I have, but…” I stopped myself before I continued the diatribe I’d repeated to myself constantly for the past few weeks. My exams were preparing me to attend a teacher training school, which wasn’t all together unpleasant. I did like to learn and seemed to have a knack for my lessons. I could see myself in a few years, wearing a tweed jacket with worn elbows, a pencil behind my ear, and probably a chalk smear on my trousers. Wads of paper would pile up near the wastebasket and a dusty apple would molder in my top desk drawer. Not exactly what I wanted, but it was better than the alternatives available to boys like me.
“But what?” asked Anna.
“It’s not important.”
“Seems important to you. It’s driving you mad, or at least driving you to silence.”
“That much is true.” It was time to change the subject. We had come here to get away from our pursuit of academics. “Anna, we’re playing this weekend. You think you’ll come?”
“Hmmm, I’m not sure. Will Rory be there?”
Always with Rory since one of our shows a few weeks ago. We shared the bill with his band, The Hurricanes, and it went very well. I’m sure Anna had more fun than most of us though, on that particular night. She always attended our shows at the various clubs and dance halls in town. If she could scrape together bus fare, she’d come to the more remote locations. She’d arrive with her friends and her sometimes boyfriend, Alex. Part of what brought her to see our band was her friendship with me, but a bigger pull was her love of music and her passion for dancing.
When we’d take the stage, I could usually spot her near the front among the Teds and assorted ruffians who always seemed to show up wherever we were. Whoever our drummer was would kick off the songs and we followed—John driving the rhythm, George taking solo breaks over the top of the melody, Stu plodding his way through the song and me filling whatever role was presented: vocals, guitar, piano, bass. The crowd would surge forward and form smaller circles before it would break like waves moving with our music.
In the chaos of it all, I could always find Anna, dancing as she was—sometimes with Alex, sometimes with a bunch of girls, sometimes by herself. She danced as if no one was looking, her feet perfectly in step to a chorography of her own making. That night, she was with Alex as we went into a hard rocking number. I was sure John was going to stomp right through the stage floor. As a dancer, Alex was not really the best partner one could hope for. An alright chap, but hopeless on the floor. He could hardly keep time and was forever turning the wrong way or missing hand-offs. They’d have a laugh of it all and Alex would abandon her to her own devises.
This night, Alex turned Anna too swiftly and sent her tumbling into a tough looking boy, who spilled his pint all over the floor and down her left leg. Unfazed, Anna never lost step while Alex turned bright red and left her solo. Her girlfriends moved in closer and they all whirled and twirled to our sounds until a boy stepped round the circle, tapped Anna on the shoulder and asked her to dance. Not uncommon, because every boy wanted his turn with her.
Anna accepted the stranger’s offer before she recognized him as Rory’s drummer, Ringo Starr. When she’d realized who’d asked her, she glanced up at me with wide-open eyes, her mouth forming a perfect O. Her surprise quickly vanished as she carried on her dance with Ringo. His being a drummer probably precluded his being a wonderful dancer, and with Anna, they easily became the best pair on the floor. He led her in what looked like a cross between a quick step and some sort of mambo; her hips rolled as synchronously and steady as a metronome. Even some of the Teds stopped their incessant drinking and gave up a little of their space to watch. Besides, no one would challenge Ringo. He is small, that’s for sure, but he comes from the Dingle and a reputation precedes him. He spun her a final time as the song concluded. I saw them shake hands and Ringo sauntered off to the green room.
Instantly her friends closed in around her, questioning as quick as gunfire. Her hands flew to her face, covering her mouth, but even from my vantage point I could tell she was beaming. Alex smirked from his corner; after all, his bird caused such a brief but noticeable stir.
Now, in the Casbah, she’d grown quiet. “ I see how you are. Not going to come unless you get your chance with Rory.” I rolled my eyes, because I knew, just as every bloke did, that all the girls had her heart set on Rory Storm.
“I’d settle for his drummer.” She bit her bottom lip as she grinned.
“You are silly, Anna.”
“I know. Let’s go, Paul. I’m tired of being in here.”
“You never stop, do you?”
“You wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I smiled and pulled on my coat. Again we inhaled the early spring air as we wandered away another Wednesday afternoon.
Anna and I walked back to our respective homes with her arm slung around my shoulders, just like a couple of grade school kids. I piddled away the rest of the afternoon pretending to study. Actually I was merely looking at the pages, trying to focus until I heard Dad and Mike come home.
We ate supper together as we normally did, each of us exchanging what he’d done that day. Dad had a particularly rough day and looked exhausted. Still he had the energy to talk to us boys and help clear the dishes. I had the usual question of “what did you do today?” and comparatively mine was the lightest. I didn’t have to spend all day on my feet, convincing people they need to buy this or do that or running a shop or actually working. Still, Dad was permissive as always with me. He knew I was working hard, trying to pass A levels so I could go onto to teach. Well, that was the impression I gave him, I guess.
After we’d eaten, we sat around in the living room, Mike talking incessantly while Dad continued reading the newspaper. I kept to myself.
“Son, you’re very quiet today. Anything wrong?”
“No. Just don’t have much to say, I guess. I’m a bit tired, so I think I’ll go upstairs.”
“Okay then. It’s probably all that studying you’ve been doing. We’ll see you in the morning. Goodnight, Paul.” He stood and touched the top of my head with his open palm.
“G’night,” I replied as I rose.
I cringed as I climbed the stairs. Had Dad known how I’d really been spending my time, he’d probably be angry. Not angry, but worse—disappointed. That I couldn’t bear. He’d been working so hard to keep food in our mouths and a nice house to live in, and here I was, goofing off with Anna, and wasting my time with John and our band.
I pushed the door of my room closed, flopped onto the bed, and retrieved my books and papers. This session, I was really going to study. I meant it and began reading the introduction to Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam. As I read, my mind began to wander as it normally did. I thought about everything else in the world—what our next venue would be like, the way to form a chord progression for “Lucille,” what Anna was doing, what would I have for breakfast the next day, the song John was writing. Certainly, Tennyson’s friend Arthur Hallum and Prince Albert were the last things on my mind. I spied a composition book I had been writing in.
Before I knew it, I had tossed my volume of literature aside and was busy working out the lyrics for a tune I’d had in my head, humming the music and singing the words softly to see if they’d fit. I’d gone through two versions of a verse before I recognized the familiar footsteps of my brother coming up to his own room, ushering me back to reality. Damn! I’d gone and done it again. Let myself be carried away by my stupid imagination. Furiously, I snapped the pencil in half and threw my book across the room. Loose papers and photos flew over my room. With my fists clenched, I fought the urge to scream. Then I heard it, softly at first, but gradually it became louder, warmer.
Downstairs, in the front parlor, Dad was playing the piano. I remember when he had it hauled home after he’d spent all afternoon selecting the perfect one. He was grinning broader than any of us, I think. None of us had any idea how he’s scraped up enough money to buy it, but I didn’t much care. Now we’d have our own piano in our own home to play when we wanted, and we could sing with Dad--and with Mum. I didn’t really recognize the tune he was playing and I could hardly hear his voice seeping through the door. But it soothed me. I tidied up the mess I’d made and burrowed under the blankets. Eventually, I slipped off to sleep, listening to Dad and dreaming of what the next day would bring.
The next day was the big day, in more ways than one. I had resigned my efforts of studying. There was no use, because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep my mind off our upcoming show that evening, or my bandmates. Especially John.
I suppose I envied him and his freedom. He was older than me and already at college. He rented a ratty flat and slept on a mattress on the floor. I’m sure he spent more time at the local pub, Ye Cracke, than he did in classrooms. Keeping afloat in school wasn’t a problem really. Anyone could tell just by talking with him how clever he was. But John didn’t bother with his own intelligence half the time. He had Cynthia to pick up his slack while he was off fiddling with his guitar or with Stu. Always with Stu, he was, watching him paint, demanding that he get better at playing bass. John did whatever he pleased whenever he felt like it, no matter how hard Mimi or anyone else tried to make him conform. In so many ways, John didn’t give a shit about anything but himself and his music. But sometimes, it seemed, he didn’t even care about that. Part of me wanted that life, but the other part, the greater part of me, didn’t.
Anyway, I couldn’t get rid of the catch—the thing I felt click inside of me. It made me hesitate when the others wanted to do things like spending all afternoon getting pissed and completely ignoring school. Not that I didn’t comply with my mates, but something made me stop and think before I did it. Mostly, I could hear things my dad had said to me, or I recalled the look on his face when I’d told him I was going to be an English teacher. He looked the same way when I brought home good marks—smiling broadly but telling me in his quiet, almost bashful tone, how proud he was of me. If I thought about it long enough, I could remember things Mother had told me as well. That always caught me, even if but for a second.
About halfway through my walk, I realized how nervous I really was. I had been habitually been rubbing my hands together, as if to keep away the cold and the tune I had been humming the night before wouldn’t leave my head. This time, I knew, I couldn’t rely on what charm I may have to get me past the A levels. It would have to be my wit, and this morning, I wasn’t too confident of my own abilities. When I entered the classroom, the other students were chattering about everything imaginable; no one seemed to want to focus on what was in store for us, except Anna. She was off at her school, taking her own exams. I could picture her clearly, how she’d be sitting in her normal spot, her books under her chair and a pencil behind her ear.
The next few hours dragged on for a small eternity. The room smelled like book binding paste and my hand cramped from writing. When we were dismissed, I felt like bolting and running until I dropped, and hopefully, never to come back. A tepid but bright sunlight filled the halls and the whoops and shouts of liberated students echoed off the walls.
“Anna!” I called. I wondered how, and why, she’d slipped into the Institute. Did she come to see me?
She walked with a group of girls I’d seen with her before. When she heard me, she slowed her pace and looked back at me over her shoulder. “Yeah?”
“Maybe,” she said coolly. Then I saw her smile break across her face, like ripples on water. “ Yes, McCartney, I’ll come and see you and your band.” She waved as she was swept up in the crowd, pouring outside into the new spring.
“Here, drink this.” John handed me a glassful of dark beer. I winced as I sipped it. “It’s good for you, Macca. Trust Johnny.”
He’d already had a few himself and it had begun to show. When John was drunk, he thought himself bulletproof, and depending on his mood, who knows what else he thought himself to be. He could be nasty and vindictive. Tonight he was jolly, and I was beginning to feel warm and happy myself. The beer began to ease my worries and I drained my second glass.
Tonight, we were booked with a few other Liverpool bands at Lathom Hall. Actually, our spot was sandwiched between the headliners. The Silver Beats, as we were momentarily known, weren’t even printed on the bill. What had me worried was a rumor I had heard. John said Alan Williams had told him Larry Parnes would be in the crowd, and he is a top producer from London. But Alan didn’t get us this gig anyway, Bee Kay had. I had no way of telling how true the gossip was. So, really, I had no reason to be nervous. But I had seen John’s face light up when he told me about Parnes, that we had the chance to been seen by someone real, someone important. That possibility and our constantly shifting drummers did little to calm me.
Alan had made his promise good by scrounging up another local boy with a day job and a drum kit. This night, Tommy Moore would hold down the beat with us. We hadn’t had a chance to rehearse with him, but we were assured he was solid and could follow along quite well. I had my doubts, but then again, I didn’t really have a choice. My pre-show jitters were merely heightened instead of being quelled. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
We arrived half an hour earlier than the show, and John had spent most of that time pacing and smoking. George huddled in a corner, obsessively tuning his guitar, even though it would go out of tune after our second song.
“Aren’t you done with that yet?” John asked.
“Yeah. Maybe. Why don’t you leave me alone, Lennon?” George narrowed his eyes at John, and I internally braced myself for the coming conflict. Instead, John balked and went outside. Only Stu seemed unaffected. He’d been chatting with Tommy and nonchalantly drinking.
“Boys,” a stagehand called, “you’re up next. You’ll have five minutes to set up and then you’re on.”
We transformed instantly. John reappeared and opened his case, George slung his guitar across his body and I grabbed my own. Tommy didn’t have time to assemble his drums, so he climbed the riser behind the borrowed set. Stu lagged behind, checking his reflection in a tacked -up looking glass, making sure each strand of hair was in place. Finally, he retrieved his bass, touching it for the first time in a week. He joined us on stage, his back to the audience.
Though I couldn’t see them, I could hear the crowd on the other side of the curtain. They buzzed and hummed with an anxious sort of anticipation, the sound of a conducted anarchy. We worked furiously to plug in our instruments and give them a quick strum, just to make sure all was in order. John stood center stage, George and I to his left, Stu to the right and Tommy behind us.
“Ready?” John looked to me.
“Ah, come on, McCartney! Ready?”
“Yeah.” I nodded. George grinned broadly at John. Stu, well, Stu was Stu and he appeared ready as he ever could be.
I thought I saw John signal the curtain puller, I know I heard him count off: 1—2—3—4. As soon as he did, we launched into our opening song, and finally I could see the crowd. They moved suddenly, surging forward at the first chord and then dividing into smaller groups when the rhythm of the music we made spread through them like an infectious disease. I couldn’t remember what we opened with, if it was Chuck Berry or Little Richard, Carl Perkins or Elvis. I never did remember. When I was onstage, I didn’t feel like myself. Not James Paul McCartney of Speke. I felt like someone—or something—else. It almost felt like I was a vessel, that this music was pouring into me and then flowing back out at the crowd. I was a man possessed, I guess you could say.
The usual sort of people made up our audience tonight. Kids from our schools, local college boys and girls and the Teds and their Judys. Inevitably some would come right up to the edge of the stage, demanding that we play a certain song, stacking up empty pint glasses in haphazard rows. I imagined that’s what Shakespeare’s groundlings were like—the ever drooling screaming masses. But they loved us fiercely, and they always came back, again and again.
Usually when we performed, I was too busy trying to make a good show of it all. I tried to sing on key, play in time, and well, make us sound like a band. But I could always sneak a glance at the crowd. Tonight, I wanted to have just as much fun as the audience did. I wanted to rid myself of everything—my perfectionism, my exam, my dad. When John sang his first note and when I first spotted Anna, my anxiety dissipated. I quit fretting over the possible presence of Parnes and the way I sounded and let the music take hold.
Anna was there, wearing jeans and what looked like her brother’s starched Oxford shirt. She stood arm in arm with her friends, her troops. I didn’t see Alex with her as the group laughed and kissed each other in greeting. She paid no mind to us at first and continued talking with the people she knew. But as we played, I could see her change.
Slowly, Anna split from the group she’d come with and did something as simple as tapping her foot. Soon enough, she’d be dancing. Anna never waited on a boy to ask her or for other people to start. She worked at her own pace, with her own sense of time. And I followed her as she edged closer to the stage’s lip, trying to stay focused on my performance. For one song, she did a quasi-jitterbug with one of our classmates, whirling and spinning the entire three minutes, her blonde hair a diaphanous blur. Another she was by herself, cha-chaing to the Latin beat of “Lonesome Tears in My Eyes.” I couldn’t stop watching her, the way she moved as the music took hold of her too.
As George played, his pick snapped in half and we had to pause so he could search for another. In my peripheral vision, I saw the stagehand signal for us to draw our set to a close. Far across the hall, I saw a bunch of boys pushing and shoving each other. A fight was eminent.
“Hurry up, George!” called Stuart.
At that moment George fished a pick from his pocket. We turned to John to call the final song. He shrugged. “You choose, Paul.”
God, I hated being put on the spot like this, but I heard the rumbling in back of the hall. “‘Don’t Ever Change,’” I said, selecting a Crickets song I’d always loved, but we rarely played. George scowled at me, but it was too late. John and Stu had begun to play the opening licks.
The crowd practically swelled and rushed. Anna frantically searched for one of her girlfriends and they began to do a shuffled, sped-up version of The Stroll. As we played, I listened this time. I listened to us—to me and John and George. George and I had to harmonize through the whole song and John’s backed us with a thickly stacked rhythm, running a series of complex chords. George and I were dead-on and I couldn’t believe that music came from us. It was so clear and pure, dousing the crowd with its simple but profound beauty. I was transported as Anna and her friend happily danced, the words and music a backdrop to their mirth. But when we came round to the last verse, they turned their dance to face us.
We sang those words for probably a hundredth time. I liked them as well as any other song and they weren’t that difficult to sing. Nothing like Little Willie John records with all those high notes. Anna apparently knew the words too. She mouthed them along with us, but suddenly she stopped. She froze in her place and sang the last part, staring at me. I looked back at her as I sang:
“ A lot of other girls I’ve seen
They know how to treat guys mean
My voice broke on the last line and as soon as the curtains closed, I ran offstage, hoping, praying Anna would come round to the green room before she left Lathom.
We exited into the dank room where we’d left our cases and jackets. Someone had the foresight to pull a pint for each of us and we drank heartily. John looked like a bucket of water had been tossed over his head. Stu and Tommy slunk off to parts unknown.
“Aw, mates, we did good tonight. Drink up boys, we’ve earned this one. Alan said we’re on for the Parnes gig in Scotland. Nine days backing Johnny Gentle’s band,” he practically sang. My stomach churned and I made sure John was being sincere. When I determined he was, I did what any other lad would do. I socked him in the shoulder.
“It was all me, Lennon,” I said.
He lightly shoved me as he scoffed, “Keep dreaming, laddie.”
George swallowed the last bit of his beer. “ If it weren’t for me—“
“All you’re good for is playing ‘Raunchy.’ ”
“Something you can’t do, Winnie,” George retorted.
“Ah, you aren’t worth having. None of you.” John laughed as he spoke and pushed George into a chair.
“Anybody see what happened in back while we were playing?” I asked.
“The usual, I’m sure,” replied John.
“Yeah, you boys can’t seem to keep your hands to yourself. There was a fight.”
I turned to the familiar voice. “How’d you get back here, Anna?”
“Don’t look so shocked. I have my ways. Hey Georgie, nice work. They let you sing this time, then?”
“I did all right, I think.” He blushed as she smiled at him.
“Yes, you did.”
“Was there a really a fight?”
John rolled his eyes. “Our George. A mere babe. There are always fights when Teds mix with beer.”
“Yes. This one spilled outside I think. Started with fists and ended with knives, is what I heard.”
“Fisticuffs I don’t mind. But this slash business I can’t stand.” John, putting his spin on things. I stood by and listened to them converse, trying to avoid Anna’s eyes. Tonight, I truly didn’t feel like myself. Trying to contain my excitement over our newly won gig, and I couldn’t figure out what had just happened on stage. Why did I suddenly feel so ridiculous in Anna’s presence?
My odd behavior was easy to spot. Anna, in her typical fashion, called attention to it. “McCartney, you’re the quiet one tonight. I think you need to take a walk.”
The boys burst into laugher, jabbing and elbowing each other. “You take care of him, Anna. We can do nothing with him.”
Reluctantly I rose and followed her through the back door, into the cold night. Though it was May, the wind still cut through my coat and I shivered. Anna seemed untouched by it. She happily skipped along ahead of me, talking rapidly and asking all sorts of questions.
“Oh, Paul. That was great. Your band—What are you called now?—sounded fantastic. And George, well, you’d hardly know how young he is. Standing up there and singing his heart out. John, wow. Did he get a new guitar? Stu, his bass—is that right?—looks brand new as well. Where does a boy like him get money for something like that? How do you remember all the words to all those songs? How do you learn them anyway? I’d die to get my hands on those American records.”
As she chattered, I kept walking. To left was the Mersey, dark and shining like a black ribbon undulating through the land. It was Liverpool’s lifeblood, bringing all our jobs and goods. All our records. All our blessed music. I’m sure Dad had gotten so many jazz records from seamen. What lay beyond the river, I’d only read about. I kicked up a tiny shower of pebbles.
Anna stopped her speech. “What now?”
I shrugged in response. I don’t think there was a way to put what I was thinking or feeling into words. Hell, I didn’t even know myself.
“You’ve been awful dull these few days.” Her voice teased me, but I still didn’t take the bait.
Suddenly, she spun on her heel and broke into a run. She was a lot like John, I thought. She couldn’t keep still, full of an energy that bubbled and sprung up from deep inside her. Something about the image of her running from me disappearing into the darkness frightened me. At that moment, I wanted to catch her and hold her, to press a ring in the palm of her hand. Beg her to stay with me.
Before I knew it, I was running after her. I overtook her, grabbed her wrists, and pulled her against me. She looked at me frenzied, shocked, her breath caught in her throat, her green eyes flashing like the Atlantic. I had snared something wild. I could almost feel her heart fluttering inside her.
“I—I’m sorry.” My brilliant comeback.
“Let me go.” She squirmed and tried to free her hands.
“I can’t. I don’t want to.” She looked at me as if I’d gone utterly mad, her eyes wide, her lips parted. Her mouth, that lovely mouth. I put my hand to her cheek and ran my thumb across her lips.
“Paul,” her voice pleaded, but sounded so far away. “ You’re scaring me.”
“Anna,” I managed with tears beginning to choke my own voice. “ I think love you.”
Her body relaxed when she stepped toward me and laid her head against my chest. I loosened my grip. Seconds, maybe minutes passed before either of us moved or spoke. It was so still and quiet, I could have sworn I heard the river.
“Paul,” she whispered. “ I don’t think you do.”
“ I do, Anna! I do,” I insisted.
“You do love me, I know. Like I love you. You’re my friend.”
“But it’s more than that.”
At this, she smiled slightly, a little sadly. “ I know. But there will be so many more like me.”
I was having trouble understanding her. “When I looked at you tonight, during that last song, Anna, I could hardly stand.”
Her chin quivered as she spoke, “ I know, love. I felt it too. But there will be more girls like me. Hundreds, maybe thousands who’ll want to listen to you. Who need to. And they’ll hear that glorious voice of yours. That wonderful music.”
“But can’t you understand what I’m saying to you. I love you. Not other girls. Not music. You. I can be a teacher. We’d have a good life.”
Now she cried, “ Paul, you’re more than me. You’re more than this town. Look.” She pushed me around so I could see the water. “You don’t belong here. You’re special.”
“Not special like you,” I said quietly.
“Please don’t do this to me.”
“Alan told us Larry Parnes wanted us to tour Scotland with Johnny Gentle. Nine days.”
“I can’t do it, Anna. I’m scared. What about you? What about my dad?”
“All those people in Lathom tonight. They came to see you. You’ll be foolish not to go with Parnes.”
“My A levels…”
“You probably failed them. You’re not headed to Oxford, you know.” She laughed at her joke and brushed away her tears. And I did too. “Let’s go back.”
We began to walk back to the hall. This time, we were quiet and I did hear the water, lapping softly on the shore. The Mersey’s voice called me. Tempted me. Dared me. Anna had put her hand in my coat pocket. I glanced over at her, and I pulled her closer to me. I inhaled the scent of her hair. A little like newly mown hay. Was she right about me? There was only one way to find out.
After he walked me back to Lathom and after we’d joked with the boys, Paul put me on a bus home. I suppose he wanted to stay with his mates, Alan, and whomever else. It wasn’t exactly a proper place for a girl to be.
The ride seemed longer than I recalled it to have been and by the time I arrived, I was still trembling. From what I had just told him. From the violence of his embrace.
But when Paul had held me, I remembered something that had happened so many years ago, when I was a little girl. It rushed back to me so suddenly. Our terrier had caught a baby rabbit in our backyard. My father had heard it screaming and delivered it from the dog’s jaws, holding it both firmly and gently between his two hands. He brought it inside for me to look at and I remembered seeing its eyes glimmering at me. I touched its soft brown fur and it struggled. My father told me we could keep it.
“We can build it a pen,” he said and when he did, I began to cry. He looked at me quizzically, because I’d always wanted a bunny for a pet. But somehow, even then, I knew it would be wrong to imprison something like that, a creature wild not meant to be kept.When Paul held me, I wanted him never to let go. He was my best friend, and I loved him so, but he wasn’t meant for here or for me. So on that night in May by the riverside, late in the evening, I let Paul go.
Britt Terry-Smith is a 25 year old graduate of Winthrop
University with a masters degree in English. Currently, she works as a full
time admissions counselor and a part time writing professor. Since she was
small, she's been a Beatles fan, when her mom turned her on to them.
She also loves to read, attend concerts, tutor students, and spend time with
her husband and dog. She also considers herself a raving Anglophile.
Recently, she has begun to write creatively, and this story is one of her