"Thank God that's finally done," said John with an audible sigh. He leaned back in his seat and watched the buildings slowly pass as the traffic crept along.
"I'm ready for a bite to eat and bed," he remarked. Putting his arm about his wife's shoulders, he drew her close and kissed her cheek gently. "How about you, woman?" he asked with a twinkle in his eyes. "Are you ready for bed?"
Yoko settled into the curve of her husband's shoulder and sighed softly. "I have a few papers to sign; they have to be out in the mail first thing in the morning," she replied, a wistful smile upon her face.
John looked closely at her and it struck him that, other than Ringo, he knew of no one else who could look so melancholy with a smile upon their lips. It was in the eyes, he decided. Right now, Yoko's eyes seemed...burdened, somehow, as though their owner held the weight of the world upon her deceptively frail, thin shoulders. He wondered briefly exactly how much his wife protected him, how many things were churning in her head that would upset him if he had to think about them. There were some, he knew that. Every now and then, he would open a piece of mail or catch the tail end of a phone conversation about some complicated business affair and demand to know what it was all about. Sometimes Yoko would just smile and explain the matter to him, but at other times, her delicate face would take on a guarded look and she would tell him that she could explain, but it would take hours and in the end, he wouldn't really understand.
Sometimes he would sulk at that, but he didn't really care. John disliked business matters and was quite happy to leave them in Yoko's very capable hands. Just lately, however, there had seemed to be something more, something that he felt sure that he really didn't want to know. Just lately, Yoko seemed not merely harried; she seemed worried. She seemed afraid.
"Listen," said John quietly into her hair, his lips close to her ear, "Is there summat wrong? Ye don't seem yerself as of late. Would ye tell me what's been botherin' ye, please, mother?"
Turning to look up into his worried face, Yoko managed a trembling smile. "It's nothing, John, honestly," she replied, and he wanted to believe her, but the look in her dark, almond eyes chilled him so that he physically shivered. Her eyes seemed haunted, and he could tell that she was only trying to protect him as usual, but this time he had the feeling it wasn't mere annoyance she was attempting to spare him. She was really, truly frightened.
John opened his mouth to say more, but the car had come to a stop and the driver was coming around to open the door for them. They had arrived home.
"I wonder if Sean is still up," Yoko said in a light voice, changing the subject deftly. "He had a long nap this afternoon, so I wouldn't be surprised if he was."
She got out of the car and began to walk quickly to the gate. It was opened for her, and she looked around to see John getting out of the car. She hoped that he would let the matter drop, that he would be distracted by their son and forget to worry further about the terror he had obviously recognized in her eyes.
The truth was that she didn't actually know what was wrong. She had been feeling uneasy all day, and by the time they had left the studio, her emotions had reached a fever pitch, leaving her simply terrified. It was irrational, she knew, but there it was. She just couldn't shake the fear.
John was talking to the driver, and Yoko wished he would hurry up. Her eyes scanned the area in front of the building, and she saw someone standing in the shadows. He looked familiar.
It was the same nondescript guy for whom John had signed a copy of the latest album earlier that day, she realized. Odd that he should still be hanging around, but he was only a fan. He must have something else he wanted signed. She saw John turn and begin to walk towards her, and she started again towards the entryway.
John thought he heard someone call his name above the sound of the car's engine starting. He began to turn towards the sound of the voice when something struck him in the neck and knocked him off balance. He heard a small explosion, and he was struck again--and again, to the sound of two more explosions.
More astonished than anything else, he stumbled, but managed to stay upon his feet. He lurched for the light and safety of the entryway, sudden pain battering his neck and shoulder. He was struck again, and he fell to the floor just inside; inside, where he should have been safe. As if in a dream, he heard Yoko screaming, anguished howls of terror and grief that were terrible to hear, almost worse than the blinding pain.
"I've been shot," he said, an almost childlike wonder in his voice, as everything grayed and faded to black.
Finding himself unable to move, open his eyes or speak, John concentrated on what he could hear.
"Do you know who this is?" a man was asking. A siren was howling steadily; the sound seemed to be coming from all around him. "I've seen this guy before," the voice continued. "This guy used to be a Beatle!"
"Whattaya mean, 'used to be?' The fuckin' guy is still alive," said another voice. The second guy sounded younger. John struggled to speak, but could let out no more than a guttural moan.
"Oh," the first guy amended, "I didn't mean 'used to be' as in he's dead, I meant 'used to be' in that the band broke up."
The band--his band; they'd always been his band--sunny, earnest George, persnickety, spritely Paul, friendly, dependable Ritchie-- his friends, his mates, his more than brothers. When was the last time he'd spoken to any of them? The last time he'd seen them? When was the last time the four of them had been together, all in one place, the last time they'd laughed together, the last time they'd played together?
Had it really been ten years since then? How had he--or any of them-- allowed that to happen? He recalled with pain (not in his body; he was beyond that sort of pain, in fact he did not seem to have a body anymore at all) the last time they had all been together, the mutinous looks, the nasty, cutting remarks, the angry, impotent tears stinging his eyes and causing him to turn away and blink them back.
John managed another deep groan.
"He's still hangin' on," the older guy said, "But that's a hell of a lot of blood. I can't believe he's here, in my squad car."
Squad car? Police, then. That's where he was, in a police car.
He managed to open his eyes a crack, and found the round face of a man who was near his own age, maybe a bit younger, peering at him.
"Do you know who you are?" asked the cop, sounding star struck and awed.
John struggled to speak, but could not. Fucking arsehole, he thought. What the fuck does it matter that I'm famous? I'm dying. I can feel it...
A tear oozed from his eye and slipped down his cheek. His eyes closed again; it was far too difficult to keep them open. John felt the darkness begin to envelop him like a warm, fluffy blanket, and he sank into it gratefully.
He didn't know how he'd gotten from the police car to the place he was now, but the scenery had certainly changed. There was a light glaring above him, and John winced and squeezed his eyes shut again, struggling to turn his head away in protest.
"Mr. Lennon, do you know where you are?" asked a female voice. He managed to open one eye a crack, but all he could see was a soft blur; the woman was too far away to be made out, and he seemed to have lost his glasses.
"No," he croaked, "No...please, water..."
The woman, who seemed to be dressed completely in white, bent closer and held a straw to his lips, and he drank gratefully. She was pretty, he now saw, and dressed in a nurses' uniform.
"Hospital," John managed to say, then he began to choke. The nurse took the glass away and smoothed his hair back.
So it's happened at last, John thought. He had half expected it for years, had even recently planned with his doctor what they would do if this situation ever arose. Now it had come; his life as he knew it was over, and he would leave it behind and begin again...that is, if he survived.
Just the week before, he'd had coffee with Dr. David Kently, and the two had discussed this very possibility. John had shared his idea with his friend to simply disappear if an attempt were ever to actually be made on his life. The threats had been unnerving John for years-- since he'd been a Beatle, actually--and lately things had gotten worse.
John and David had been sitting in the corner at Café La Fortuna when the final plan was made.
"I'm supposed to be stayin' away from these thingies," John smiled, taking another bite of a butter cookie. "I can't seem to do it, though. They're just too bloody good."
"A few cookies aren't going to kill you, John," David replied, nodding at the waitress to refill his cup. "Your last checkup was just fine. If anything, you could stand to gain a few pounds."
"I like it that way," John replied. "Gives me a bit o' room to cheat." He looked over the rim of his coffee cup at his friend. His face was pensive.
"Funny how the meanin' of that word has changed for me," John went on. "'Cheat', I mean. At one time I would've used it to describe what I was doin' with another woman, an' now it's somethin' as innocuous as a fuckin' cookie. Not that I haven't been thinkin' about havin' a woman; I've been callin' May from time to time, and I've actually been givin' her quite a bit o' thought. A man has his needs, ye know. I hesitate, though, 'cos she seems to be nearly over me, and I don't wanna stir old feelin's all up an' maybe hurt her again."
"Not being taken care of at home, John?" asked David. "Is there some problem between you and Yoko?"
"Well, now ye see, Davie, I just
don't know how to answer that," John replied. He toyed with his spoon,
looked into its bowl, and made a face at himself. "She
seems...preoccupied as of late. Nothin' that I can put me finger on, ye
understand. It's just a feelin' is all. There's somethin' goin' on inside
that inscrutable little head o' hers, but she's not talkin'. I wonder
sometimes if she might not be happier without me. I almost feel like I'm in
the way at home, sometimes, the last couple months."
John sighed. "Yer right, I would," he said, his eyes softening. "I get the feelin' that there's danger though, somewhere near. I try not to think about it, but I gotta admit, Davie, I'm dead scared sometimes. I feel like I'm bein' watched...like I'm livin' on borrowed time. If I were to discover I'm right and it's not just me paranoia--if I really am in danger--then Sean would be better off if I were just to disappear." John leaned forward and gazed intently into his friends' eyes. David was surprised by the depth of emotion he saw there.
"Do you ever think of doing that, John?" he asked. "Just disappearing? For good, I mean?"
"I'm thinkin' about it right now, Dave," John told him. "I'm thinkin' about it real hard. As a matter of fact, I want you to make me a promise. Will ye do that, Dave? Make a promise to me?"
"If I can do it, I promise I will, if it means that much to you, John. Tell me what I can do."
"If someone tries to kill me, promise you'll help me get away from New York. I mean far away, somewhere I can start over."
"John," said David, putting a hand on his friends' arm, "No one's going to try to kill you. Why would they?"
"I don't know," replied John. To Dave's horror, tears welled up in the musician's light brown eyes. "I really have no idea, but it's a feelin' I just can't shake," John went on. "I can't explain it. I just have this...feelin' of dread, like there's summat lurkin' just behind a half closed door, waitin' to jump out at me, all teeth an' claws. Somethin's wrong, Dave, somethin's very wrong, and if someone kills me that will be that, but if they try and I manage to survive, I'll be fucked if they'll get another chance at me. I'd rather just let everyone think I was dead and go on with me life elsewhere."
"But where? You have one of the four most recognizable faces in the civilized world, John. Where could you possibly go?"
"I have a place," replied John, a smile touching his lips for the first time since the conversation had begun. "You just let me worry about that, and promise me you'll do yer part. Not only to protect me, but to protect Yoko and Sean as well."
David had promised, and now it had happened.
John looked up at the nurse’s pretty face, and the girl smiled gently. "That's right, you're in the hospital," she replied. "Now, you relax, sir, and I'm going to get the doctor so he can take a look at you. We weren't at all sure that you were going to make it at all-- Doctor Kently is with your wife right now."
Once he was alone again, John tried to turn his head and look around the room. There were electrodes glued to his chest and some sort of clothespin-like thingie fastened to his left index finger, the purpose of which he could not begin to fathom. He heard a woman wail in another room somewhere down the hall, and he closed his eyes miserably. Yoko. Her voice, rising hysterically in grief, carried easily to his ears.
"No, no, he can't be dead, he can't be," she wailed. "Where is he? I want to see him; I need to see him--don't you understand? He's my life!"
He squeezed his eyes shut tightly and the tears squirted out from beneath the quivering lids; his throat felt thick. His chest heaved, and he began to weep. Great, gulping, shuddering sobs wracked his aching body and he had to hold his breath to keep himself from allowing his own keening wail to join hers down the hall. Her cries began to recede as someone led her away, and John continued to weep inconsolably, feeling more alone than he had since he had been a little boy. As his sobs subsided, his mind drifted back to something that had happened to him when he was still too young even for infant school.
He had been running for the sheer joy of feeling the wind in his face, arms out, eyes closed, when suddenly the world seemed to drop away from beneath his feet and he tumbled down head over heels over rocks and gravel, finally landing in the bottom of a deep pit with the air completely knocked out of his small body.
As he remembered, he became that small boy on that overcast day all over again.
He was terrified; no one was coming for him, not ever; everybody seemed to have gone away. He sat on the ground at the bottom of the washout and pulled his knees up under his chin. He crossed his arms over his knees and laid his head across them; he was becoming too tired to cry anymore. With the tears drying on his cheeks, he heaved a shuddering sigh and closed his light brown eyes. He wondered what would happen to him. Would he be here forever? He slept briefly, then started awake; had he heard someone calling him? His little heart pounded in his chest and he jumped to his feet, screaming.
“Daddy! I’m here! I can’t get out! Help me! DADDY!” he cried, and the tears began to come afresh. His father’s voice sounded very far away indeed; perhaps he would not be able to hear him at all. Panicking, the child clawed at the wall of sandy earth in front of him, but the dirt just gave way and dropped into the pit with him. He could not get a handhold. He was screaming incoherently now, every nerve in his small body alive and throbbing with sheer terror. He was at the point of losing consciousness when his father peeked over the edge of the washout.
“John? Are you all right?” he called. There was an edge of fear to his voice.
“Help me, I can’t get OUT,” cried the boy, “I’m hungry and I hurt my leg, it’s bleeding!”
“Hang on, I’ll have you out in no time,” his father replied, sounding very relieved indeed.
That night, the boy dreamed about being in a deep, black hole again, and woke up terrified to find himself in the dark. Scrambling out of bed, he switched the light on and got back into bed, pulling the blankets up under his chin.
Now, just as he had so many years ago (a lifetime ago), John managed to pull the thin, woven blanket that covered his body up to his chin, and he peered up at the ceiling as he had that night. There was no darkness in this bright, sterile room, but inside of him was another story. Inside of him, it was plenty dark.
Later that night, John was moved by plane to a private facility in London, where he would be hidden from the world. Word went out from the hospital to the police that the ex-Beatle's body had been stolen from the morgue, and a convincing 'morgue' photograph had been taken and released to the press.
The police investigation was kept quiet; the general public never would learn that the singer's body had been 'stolen'. Preferring not to be the center of a media circus, Yoko arranged a private memorial service and claimed to have had her husband's remains cremated. She would never admit to anyone at all that he had, in fact, seemed to disappear into thin air. She wondered, though. No matter how many weeks, months, and years passed, she would wonder.
John looked out through the glass at the green island below the helicopter. Harmony Island. He was still weak, but he felt much better. New York was half a world away, and he was about to start a new life somewhere safe, where no assassin's bullet could find him. It was ironic, he thought, that he had worried so about being shot back in the sixties after his faux pas regarding the lofty status of his band compared to that of Our Lord and Savior, gradually allowing that fear to subside and finally disappear during his five year hiatus from the music world, only to resurface like a circling shark these past few months. He had donated a truckload of bulletproof vests to the NYPD just recently, but he had stubbornly refused to wear one himself.
It wouldn't have saved me getting shot anyway, he thought. The vest wouldn't have covered the place where the most damage was done. The bullet that would have killed John Lennon had struck him in the neck. As it was, he had managed not to die, but his throat had sustained so much damage that he could barely speak, and it was doubtful whether he would ever be able to sing again.
"Are you all right, sir?" asked the pilot, an RAF man who looked to be all of eighteen and obviously did not recognize his celebrated passenger. To be fair, though, few people, even the most ardent of fans, would be likely to do so.
The famous profile had been altered; just slightly, he still looked like John Lennon, but no more so than many other men did. His nose had been pared down slightly, his lips enhanced with collagen to thicken them a bit, and he wore contact lenses which made his eyes appear quite blue. Add in the accidental alteration to his voice and he could have been any guy who resembled the ex Beatle. Every penny he'd had in his secret safety deposit box in London was now either in the pockets of his friend and doctor, who had done a brilliant job of helping him disappear, or safely tucked into his own.
If he was careful, he would have enough to live on for a good long time, but sooner or later he would need to find a way to support himself. He supposed that there would be time enough to worry about that later. Most of his money had been left under Yoko's control; at least he knew that Sean would never want for anything, nor Julian, to whom he had left a sizeable inheritance as well.
The thought of his wife and children brought tightness to his throat and a painful swelling to his heart. He had just been getting close to Julian at long last, and he had so been looking forward to watching Sean grow into manhood. He wondered if there was any chance of his ever seeing any of them again.
His reverie was cut short as the helicopter began its sharp descent and set down in a wide, green field, scattering the sheep placidly grazing there in a mad panic, running in every direction.
He grabbed his suitcases, threw them onto the grass, climbed out of the craft, recovered his luggage, and retreated to a safe distance, then turned and gave a sharp salute and a tight smile to the pilot, who returned them both and took the helicopter back up. It hovered for a moment, then proceeded back to the mainland. Standing alone in the middle of the field, John watched it go until it was no more than a speck in the distance before taking up a case in each hand and beginning to walk through the grass towards the stone wall running around its perimeter and the brown, muddy road beyond.
Picking his way between the puddles left by the previous days' rain, John traveled the rutted road towards the tiny village he could just make out on the horizon. He stopped often to catch his breath and collect his thoughts, which were spinning about in his head like clothes in an automatic dryer. He would glimpse one image after another, each one quickly replaced with the next, which was quickly replaced by the next. It was more than an hour before he finally reached the tiny hamlet with its old fashioned, thatched roof cottages and a small pub with rooms to let above. He sighed gratefully and entered the pub, setting his bags down just inside the door and seating himself at the bar. It was early in the day, and at the moment there were no other customers.
"Needin' a place to stay?" asked the girl behind the bar with a nod towards his suitcases. "I've not seen you before. How do you come to be on our island?"
"Yes to th' first question, and by helicopter to the last," John replied, automatically giving the girl a long, appraising look. She was sturdy and buxom, but not fat; russet waves of hair cascaded freely over her shoulders and fell to her waist. Her fresh, pale skin was accented by a smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks, and large, wide set, gray-green eyes. Very nice, he thought. He filled his eyes with the sight of her.
"Let me know if you see anything you haven't seen before, won't you," she said wryly.
John chuckled; he hadn't been able to find a reason to laugh in a while now, and he was enjoying this exchange with the young barmaid. Suddenly, he felt twenty years younger.
"That I will," he agreed. "Now, how about a pint for a weary traveler? I've walked miles."
"Yes, all of three," the girl retorted, taking up a glass. "Guinness do?"
"Is there anything better?" asked John, "It'll do just fine."
He couldn't remember the last time he'd had one, but he'd heard that stout was good for medicine, and he was sure a little extra medicine wouldn't hurt him a bit. He watched the girl as she pulled the pint and set it, frothy and dark, on the bar in front of him.
He took a good swallow and winced slightly at the bitter aftertaste, but it felt and tasted good inside of him.
"Now," he said with a grin, "How about that room? How much for a month with meals thrown in?"
The girl quoted a price which to John seemed outrageously low, accustomed as he was to the prices of things in New York City. He nodded agreement and paid her, and the young woman went off to write him a receipt and fetch the key.
Once the door to his new home had closed behind him, John set his bags down and took in his surroundings. He was surprised to see that there was no television until he realized there would likely be no reception. He would have to do something about that. He liked to keep it on, sometimes with the sound up, sometimes not, but if he woke in the night, the flickering light it gave comforted him.
There was one window, sparkling clean and dressed with sea green curtains which looked homemade, and an armchair beside it covered in a similar cloth. The single bed was of a simple wooden design with two fat pillows and a patchwork quilt, also apparently handmade. A clothes dresser with a mirror stood opposite the window, and in front of it, between the dresser and the bed, there was a braided rug in black, red, and green covering a portion of the wooden floor, which through polishing and age had acheived a soft, golden patina. There was a small table beside the bed and another, with two high backed chairs, beside the dresser. On top of the dresser there was a water glass with a pitcher beside it. In the far corner, there was a curtain falling to the floor. John crossed the room and lifted the curtain to reveal a toilet and a small sink. He wondered briefly where he was to bathe, then decided that the basin would do for now. Two soft, clean white towels were folded on the back of the toilet, and a bar of apparently homemade soap sat in a small dish beside them.
"All the comforts of home, or nearly so," he said out loud, and the sound of his own voice gave him a start. Even though it had been several weeks since the attempt had been made on his life, he was just not used to the strange, new sound of it. With a sigh, he lifted one of the suitcases to the bed, opened it, and began to unpack and put his things away.
Once he was finished with that, he kicked off his boots and stretched out on the bed gratefully; he was asleep in moments.
He was awakened by a gentle knock on the door. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. The sun was nearly down, and a deep rose-tinted light was shining in through the window.
"Yeah, right there," he called, his voice rough and thick from sleep. "Who is it?"
"It's me, Mavis," called a female voice. "I've brought your supper."
Mavis, he thought. The barmaid; her name was Mavis, then. It suited her.
John opened the door and stepped aside to allow her to enter. The girl was carrying a large tray covered by a clean, white, linen towel. She set the tray on the table by the dresser and turned to go. "Let me know if there's anything else I can get you, sir," she said at the doorway.
"Must you leave?" he asked.
Something in his voice made her pause. "I cannot stay," she replied, "I have things to attend to, but if you'll come down to the pub in an hour or so, I'll be on a break of sorts-- I have to peel the potatoes for tomorrow's meals and I'll be sitting by the fire for the time it takes me to do it. You can sit by me, and we can have a talk then." She hesitated, then added, "Although I shouldn't, especially seeing as how you haven't even seen fit to tell me your name."
"It's John," he said automatically. Damn, he thought. but it was already out. "John Evans," he added. Maybe it would be okay to keep his first name. It was common enough and might not raise anyone's suspicion, and he was sure that his old friend Mal would not object to lending him his surname.
"Well, then, John Evans," said Mavis with a smile, "I'll see you downstairs in about an hour. Enjoy your supper."
As he began to eat, John realized how hungry he was. Mavis had brought roast lamb, mashed potatoes, fresh peas and crusty, fresh baked bread dripping with butter.
"I'm gonna get fat eatin' like this," he remarked to the room in general, but he didn't stop until every bite had been tucked away.
He thought that tomorrow he would go for a walk around the island. He hadn't been here in forever; after he had purchased the small island off the coast of Scotland in the late sixties, he had decided that it was too gray and chilly here and had given the land to a commune of hippies. The commune had since grown and thrived, developing into this small hamlet with its small shops and a modest tourist trade. The outlying area was taken up by small farms, and it was from these that the island's food supply came, for the most part.
Some of the island women made sweaters and blankets from the wool taken from the many sheep kept here, as well as rugs and skeins of soft, colorful yarn which were sold to markets on the mainland. The residents all knew one another, and there was seldom trouble on the little island. There was no police force. The few small disputes that arose from time to time were handled by a board of peacekeepers, and their word was considered law.
After he had finished eating, John carried the tray downstairs and put it at the end of the bar. Mavis was nowhere to be seen; he supposed she was in the kitchen. He sat in a big wingback chair by the fire and looked about the room. His eyes fell on a tall bookshelf, and he hauled himself to his feet and crossed the room to stand in front of it.
He perused the books eagerly, taking down one after another, replacing each one after flipping through it. There were enough books here to keep him busy for some time; perhaps he didn't need to worry about getting that television and VCR right away after all.
After fifteen minutes or so, John selected a volume and carried it back with him to his chair. Mavis emerged from the kitchen carrying a large basin of potatoes and came over to sit beside him, and he slipped the book between his thigh and the side of the chair.
"That looks like an awful lot o' potatoes," he said, "Ye must be expectin' a lot o' customers."
"We always use a lot," she replied. "I fry them in the morning and at dinner, and roast, bake, or mash them for supper."
"Mind if I smoke?" asked John. "I've cut down a lot, but I still fancy one after a good meal...and a few other special times."
He slipped naturally into flirtation with her, and Mavis smiled warmly at him.
"No, go ahead, I don't mind," she told him. "In fact, I like it. I miss the smell of tobacco in the evening, since my dad passed away last winter. He used to sit here with me like this and have a smoke," she added.
John was unsure of what to say. "I'm sorry," he finally managed. "How'd it happen?" He selected a cigarette and lit it, inhaling deeply. It burned his throat at first, but after a few drags the discomfort would subside.
"He was sick for a long time," answered Mavis. "Cancer, you know. By the time it was over, he was ready. I think he may have even been looking forward to it. You know, so he could be with Mummy again."
John continued to smoke, watching the fire. "What happened to yer mum?" he asked.
"She died having me," replied Mavis. "So I never knew her. I've pictures, though, and I do favor her."
"Well, then," said John quietly, "She must have been lovely." He met her eyes and she ducked her head, concentrating on the potato in her hand.
Something about the gesture reminded John of Julian; he had reacted in much the same way when his father had teased him about a girl he liked at school. He became painfully aware of how young the girl beside him actually appeared.
"How old are ye, Mavis?" he asked suddenly.
"Seventeen," she said proudly.
The first line of an old song popped into his head, and he suppressed a rueful smile. That was that, then, he thought. This girl was more suited to his son than to him. In a few months, Julian would be the same age.
"You put me in mind of my dad," she remarked, as if on cue. "Do you have any children, John?"
"Yeah, two boys," he replied. "They're with their mothers. One of them," he admitted, "is about your age."
"No daughters, then?" Mavis picked up another potato and began peeling it deftly.
"No, just the boys. I don't know how I'd have gotten through raising a gurrl," he said with a grin. "Th' first time they went out on a date, I'd of been followin' right behind, ready to thump th' little bastard if he stepped outta line, so I suppose it's best I stuck to lads."
"You sound like my father," she said, laughing. "He was always so suspicious of the fellows I went out with. There's not much to do hereabouts, no cinema or anything like that, so we generally went out for a picnic or boating, and he was always certain that they were all after just the one thing."
"Yeah, well, he was right, though, wasn't he," replied John. "He knew that; he was a lad once, an' things never really change all that much."
The girl regarded him, potato and parer halted in mid-stroke. Her pretty face flushed and she smiled shyly. "Yes, he was," she admitted. "They were."
"Well, there ye go, then," said John, crushing out his cigarette. "A father knows."
They sat in silence for a few moments, he thinking of his children and Yoko, she of her father and the mother she'd never known.
It was Mavis who finally broke the silence.
"You must miss them," she said. "Have you only just come from them, or have you not seen them for a while?"
John hesitated, considered his reply, and decided upon the truth. "The older one I haven't seen for almost a year," he admitted, "But the younger I've just come away from. His mother and I have recently...parted ways."
"I'm sorry," said the girl. "Was it bad?"
"Very bad," he replied. "But it's for the best, I think. "
"You still love her," Mavis said knowingly. "You do; I can see it in your eyes. When you mention her they go all soft. Why did you leave, if you love her? Upon seeing his startled expression, she hurriedly added, "You don't have to answer."
"No, it's all right," he replied. "It's true. I do love her. I left because I felt I had to. I felt it would be safer for both of us, and for our son. Besides," he added, and tears sprang to his eyes and sparkled there in the firelight, "I'm not at all sure that things were workin' between us anymore. I kind of had th' feelin' she was considerin' splittin' from me, an' I didn't wanna be th' one who got left. I was afraid that if I stayed, I was gonna get hurt, so when I got sh--when I got sure, I took th' first opportunity I had to cut meself loose." His mind raced. He'd have to be more careful. He'd almost said, 'when I got shot,' and he didn't want to let that much information out.
"I'm so sorry," she said softly, reaching out to touch his arm. "You must be in a lot of pain. Why did you come here, though? Don't you have any other family?"
John sighed. "No," he replied. "No family. Not any more." He got up and smiled at her sadly. “I guess I’ll be goin’ on t’ bed now,” he said.
“Don’t forget your book,” Mavis reminded him.
He took the book from the chair and turned to go up to his room.
“Good night, Mr. Evans,” she called, “Sweet dreams, you.”
“Thanks, you too,” he said before ascending the stairs.
Lying in his bed, he thought again of Yoko and Sean. He wondered what time it was where they were; he could never keep the time zones straight.
Tears stung his eyes and he realized he'd forgotten to remove his contact lenses. He got up and took them out, placing them carefully in their case. The lenses had come a long way since he'd worn his first pair back in the sixties. Those had been hard, rigid glass; these were some sort of flexible plastic. It was easy to forget that they were in his eyes sometimes. It was odd, but he found that he missed his glasses, sometimes unconsciously reaching to push them up when they were not even on his face.
Climbing back into bed, he wondered who it was that Yoko had been seeing. He felt sure there had been someone, but he didn't have any proof, so he never had confronted her. He wondered whether she was with anyone right now.
Things had been tense between the two of them the last few months they'd been together. He'd been working again, and she with him, so it had been all right while that was happening, but after the day's work was done, she had been going to one room and he to another, neither of them saying a word to the other.
Sometimes he would catch her looking at him, her enigmatic eyes clouded with something like pity. He wasn't sure what that was about at first, but finally concluded that she had begun making plans to leave him. He didn't know what to do, so he'd pretended that everything was fine, hoping that if he pretended hard enough and for long enough, it would become so.
When the generic, pudgy little man hanging around in front of the Dakota had shot him and he had survived, John decided to take the opportunity both to protect his family from harm and to leave the situation without any final confrontation, and now here he was, in a little room above a little pub in the middle of a little island, alone in this very big, very lonely world.
He rubbed his eyes to clear the tears away and turned onto his side to sleep.
The next day at breakfast, John mentioned to Mavis that he meant to take a tour of the island.
"If you'll wait until after anyone wantin' breakfast has come and gone," she offered, "I would be glad to take you on a short tour myself. I'll have an hour or two, and there's not actually an awful lot to see."
He brightened. "I'd appreciate that," he said. "I really need to do some walkin', though. Th' way yer feedin' me, I'm gonna get too big t' fit through th' fuckin' door if I don't keep meself active."
"Nonsense, you're thin as a stick," she scolded. "You could do with a few more pounds, you."
He grinned and went back to work on his breakfast.
The island was a small but thriving community. There was a medical building, made of stone with a thatched roof like most of the houses and shops, a general store selling everything from tinned soup to sewing notions, a small school which did double duty as a church on Sundays and also served as a town meeting hall, and a repair shop where one could take any broken item from a toaster to a tractor to be fixed.
In the square there was also a tiny post office with a bake shop under the same roof and a little shop selling fresh fish with the family who owned the business living above. These people also mended fishing nets and sold or traded fishing equipment and bait for those who preferred to catch their own fish. There was a rocky beach close by and a small marina which boasted the island's only petrol pump as well as another for kerosene.
Behind the school there was a small playground in which a few young mothers sat watching their children play, and a soccer field with a set of wooden bleachers. Beyond the village there were farms scattered about, and the green, rocky fields were dotted with placid white sheep and a few herds of goats as well as the occasional horse or cow. Flocks of chickens scratched busily here and there, clucking excitedly whenever one of them scared up and chased down a fat bug. Most of the stoops in front of the little buildings had a couple of cats or a sleeping dog curled up or stretched languidly in the sun upon them.
It was a lovely place, and John found himself feeling very proud of it. When he had bought the place, it had been nothing more than a pile of rocks and a spit of grass or sand here and there, interspersed with the occasional stand of scraggly trees or bushes.
Under the care of the small band of hippies he had given the island to, it had become a lovely little community surrounded by well tended farmland and small, well kept wooded areas.
Electricity was provided by solar panels and several windmills, but few electrical appliances were used. Heat was provided in the winter by imported peat, coal, and those trees that chanced to die. The ground in the treed areas was kept free of fallen branches and debris, which was also burned, and much of the cooking was done over open fires, although some places, including Mavis' kitchen in the pub, boasted propane powered stoves. Water for most houses came from wells in their back gardens, and there was a public well on the town common from which underground pipes were run to the school and the various businesses.
Not a lot of money changed hands; much of the local trade was done by means of the barter system, one person trading, for example, eggs from his chickens for flour and sugar from the general store. Most of the actual cash came from the occasional tourist and the sale of fish and woolen items made by the island's women, and this was used to pay for the heating materials and the staples not produced on the island as well as things like lumber, nails, liquor, tobacco, pans, and crockery.
All in all, John was quite impressed; the ragtag band of hippies with dreams of creating their own society had done all right for themselves. He thought that, in signing ownership of the island over to them, he had done quite a good thing.
He hadn't been on the island for more than two months before John began to be considered a local. He fascinated the single women in the village, and the pub began to have more female customers as the weeks passed.
"They're all here to see you, you know," Mavis told him one night as he was helping her change the keg behind the bar,
"There are a lot more of 'em around the last couple weeks," he admitted, "But I'm not so sure it's because o' me. They mostly listen to th' radio; they don't really talk t' me all that much."
"John Evans, don't be so bloody thick," said the girl, shaking her head with a smile. "Of course it's you. They're just waiting for you to choose between them. That's the way it's done here. A woman lets a man know she's available and interested, and he takes it from there. Isn't it the same in America? Isn't that the way it's done everywhere?"
He snorted. "Well, it was, once, but not any more," he replied. "Nowadays if a gurrl fancies a fellow, she comes right out an' lets him know about it. Sometimes," he added with a wink, "She even asks him to come home to spend the night with her."
"No, it's true," he asserted. "Happens all th' time, like. Anyhow, these gurrls don't seem all that shy to me. I see 'em sunnin' themselves without their tops on in the park, bold as ye please. D'ye mean to tell me, Miss Mavis, that a gurrl who'll do that in public is too shy to ask a bloke out?"
"It's not the same thing," she explained. "It's one matter to be free with your body; that's natural, but a woman asking a man out-- well, Mr. Evans, that's entirely another thing. It's simply not a woman's place."
He laughed out loud at that. "Ye'd get yer arse kicked by one o' them feminist types for sayin' such a thing as that, me gurrl," he told her. "The women in America would be positively insulted by such talk, and pissed as fuckin' hell."
He tightened the tap and straightened up, holding the small of his back and wincing. He smiled at her puzzled expression. "Ye know," he confided, "I like th' way o' thinkin' in these parts better. It's sort of refreshin', like, old fashioned gurrls who expect a man to take the lead. Here I was thinkin' these ladies were taken, they seemed so reserved. Now that I know I'm to take me pick, why, I feel like a lad in a sweet shop."
Mavis giggled and gave his shoulder a push. “Go on with you, then, Johnnie,” she said, “Enjoy yourself. Your public awaits!”
It felt strange to John the first time he accompanied one of the island women back to her cottage for the night. He still loved his wife, and he felt a bit guilty holding another woman in his arms, but it had been a long time, and his need was strong, so his discomfort was quickly overcome.
No matter how many times he spent the night away from his room, however, he was always glad to come back and spend the day with Mavis. His physical needs were quieted by the lush, sensuous women practically lining up for his attention each night, but although he enjoyed them immensely, it was always the young barmaid he sought out when he needed a friend.
"So," said Mavis one morning as John was helping her stack the chairs on the tables, "When are you going to tell me the truth about yourself, John?"
"Whattayer mean; I've answered all yer questions," he replied. A cold worm seemed to writhe inside of his stomach.
"Let's sit by the fireplace," Mavis said quietly, placing her hand on his arm. "I'll wash the floor later. There are a couple hours before I'll need to open again. We'll talk, you and I."
He hesitated, his heart pounding, his eyes imploring her.
"It's all right," she assured him. "Really. Come sit."
John sat, but he did not sprawl comfortably as he usually did. He sat upright, his eyes slightly averted, a high, thin buzzing in his ears. He felt a strong sense of impending doom; an irrational fear clutched his heart.
Mavis settled herself beside him and took one of his hands in both of hers. "Such beautiful hands," she said in a near whisper. "Such graceful fingers. Are you a musician, Mr. Evans?"
A shock ran through him and his eyes darted towards hers. He found her staring hard into his face, leaning forward, her eyes calm but unrelenting.
"Have ye ever heard me speak of any such thing?" he asked, avoiding her eyes. "Did I bring any instruments here with me?"
The girl sighed. "Please tell me, John," she said in a desperate voice. "I've known you were troubled since the first day you walked in here, and it took me a while to figure it out, but I think I know who you are now, and I need to understand why you've done what you've done."
"I don't know what ye mean," he replied, withdrawing his hand. "Ye must be daft, gurrl. I don't know what it is ye think ye know, but whatever it is, yer wrong, and if ye'll excuse me, I've got someplace I've gotta be."
He steeled himself and forced his eyes to meet her gaze. Her face had gone all soft with hurt, and a tear dripped from one green eye and slipped down her cheek.
"You don't trust me," she whispered. "I thought you did."
"I do," he insisted. "I just have to leave. Please, Mavis, let's just go back to the way it was before and please let's just not mention this again."
She nodded. "Okay," she agreed. "Okay, John. I'll drop it."
She looked so lost and seemed so forlorn that he leaned forward and put his arms around her, his heart aching. "It's all right," he said gently, kissing the top of her head. "I'm sorry to upset ye, lass, but I am who I say I am, and whatever it is yer thinkin', yer wrong. Understand?"
She shifted in his arms and leaned her cheek against his chest with a sigh, listening to the steady beat of his heart. She nodded her head, knowing full well that he was lying to her and that things would never be the same between the two of them again.
John found it hard to be around Mavis with the lie between them. It hurt her that he would not confide in her, and he knew it. More than anything, he wanted to go to her and pour his heart out, to tell her how much he missed his children, his wife, the life he had left behind. He wondered what would have happened if he had never been shot. Would Yoko have stayed with him? Had she really been planning to leave him for someone else the way he'd gotten it all decided in his mind? The longer he was separated from her, the less likely it seemed to him.
Maybe he could go back and pick up where he'd left off. Maybe everything would be all right. Maybe... but no. What about his family's safety? There had to be a reason that he'd been shot, and it seemed likely to John that whatever that reason was, he was better off staying dead, at least as far as the world knew. There had been things that had happened before the shooting; the mysterious clicks and hums had begun coming across the lines during his phone conversations again, and several times when he'd been walking in the park, he'd felt he was being followed and watched.
During his five year 'retirement', the phone had been quiet and he'd begun to relax out in public. He'd sat for hours in the park watching Sean at play with nothing indicating that he was even being noticed except for the occasional request for an autograph or an excited whisper between a couple now and then when one of them noticed the ex-Beatle sitting there. He'd been relaxed and happy, cheerfully tending to his little boy and making sure that when Yoko came home, nothing would disturb her and she could rest.
One day, John had decided that he still had things to say to the world. He would share his feelings about what it was like in his corner of the universe, how happy he was to have the opportunity to start over again in his relationship and in his career, and why he had kept a low profile for so long. He decided that he would record a new album; he had been writing for a while and had enough material to complete a record if he put them with some of the stuff Yoko had been writing. He would, he decided, go back to work.
During the making of the record, which he had decided would be called "Double Fantasy" It was the name of a flower John had seen while on holiday with Sean and he'd loved the sound of the name. Subtle changes began to take place.
Once again the little buzzes, hums and clicks could be heard during John's phone calls, and he began to feel as though he was being watched again. To make matters worse, Yoko had begun acting strangely. He would catch her now and then talking on the phone, hurriedly excusing herself and hanging up when he wandered into the room, or even worse, regarding him with what seemed to John like alternating looks of pity, fear, and pensive speculation. He hadn't been sure at the time which of those expressions had troubled him most, but now he realized that it was the pity. He'd tried not to think about it, but as she gazed across the room at him with that look in her dark eyes, it was all he could do not to demand to know the reason why.
He wouldn't do it, though, no sir, not him. If there was one thing John had learned in the forty years he'd been upon this earth, it was that nothing good ever came from confrontation. Confrontation hurt, and it confused things more than it ever clarified them, because people tended to become defensive and voices tended to be raised, causing things to come out that were better left unsaid until the issue at hand became so clouded that no sense at all could be made of it. Better to be silent, better to allow things to remain calm. More often than not, situations rectified themselves, or if they didn't, they became less important with time and could be spoken of calmly at a future date. There was always time to wait the problems out, that is, provided you didn't get shot.
John, however, had been shot, and he had very nearly died, and he didn't know who that strange little man had been, what he'd had against John, or worse yet, why he had done what he had. John had the feeling that someone else, someone much more powerful, someone with an agenda John could never hope to understand, was behind the shooting. The man he'd glimpsed before he'd been hit had seemed inconsequential, a nobody--a stooge. Even if he was sure of nothing else, John was sure of that. That guy probably hadn't even known who actually was behind the assassination attempt, and that was the man John was afraid of.
If he went back and let it be known that he was still alive, he might not be so lucky a second time. Even worse, his wife or kids might be targeted. No, he could not go home, and he could not let anyone--not even Mavis-- know that he had survived and was here on this island away from the rest of the world. He thought it quite possible that the cosmic reason he had bought the little island and handed it over to the hippies was so that he might have someplace remote to go away to when the need arose. After all, nothing ever really happened for no reason at all; he knew that much.
"Good morning, John Evans," said Mavis when John dragged in one morning a few weeks later. "You look a sight; you must have had a great time last night. Who was she, if I might be so bold as to ask?"
"Rainbow Kelly," he muttered, dragging his sleeve across his bleary eyes. "Got any coffee, have ye, Miss Mavis?"
"Course I do; when have you ever known me not to have the coffee made by the time it's nearly noon?" she asked, setting a big, steaming cup in front of him.
"Never," he replied, lifting the cup in both hands. He took a careful sip. "It's good," he told her. "Ye make th' best coffee, Mavis, me gurrl."
"Thanks," she said, sliding into the seat beside his. "Will you be coming to my party tonight, or do you have another...date?"
"What sort of a party?" he asked, lighting a cigarette. He was beginning to feel better now.
"It's my birthday," she told him. "I'm eighteen today."
"Are ye really? Well, then, by all means, happy birthday to ye." John smiled at her, a genuine smile, the first she'd seen upon his face in weeks.
"Thanks," she said, returning his smile with a real one of her own. "Now, hadn't you best get going?"
"Goin' where-- I was goin' to bed, actually," he said. "I had a hard night."
"No doubt. Going to get my birthday present, of course," replied Mavis. "And mind you, I'm going to be expecting a good one. Eighteen is a milestone, after all."
"Yer only right, an' I promise to go just as soon as I have a little bit of a nap," he said, crushing out his cigarette and downing the last of his coffee. "I won't sleep long. The kids will see to that, if I keep me window open. They run by here like th' bloody clappers, shoutin' at the tops of their lungs, when the school lets out."
He was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillows, and didn't wake up until, as he had predicted, the children were released for the day and stampeded by.
When he went downstairs, Mavis had gone somewhere, but there was a sandwich wrapped in oiled paper on the bar for him, and a thermos of coffee, which was holding down a note addressed to him. He poured some coffee into a cup, unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite, and began to read:
If you're reading this, you've
discovered your lunch. Please make sure to put some water in the vacuum
bottle after you've finished your coffee. I've gone to the bake shop and to
pick up a few groceries. I may have to throw my own birthday party, but I
draw the line at baking my own cake!
See you in a bit,
PS - please leave the latchstring out
so that Dylan can get in with the new keg and to take out the old.
He made a mental note to arrange a party for her the following year, and as soon as he had done so, the realization struck him that he still assumed he'd be here the next year.
With a sigh, he finished his lunch, rinsed the thermos, and left, carefully leaving the latchstring out.
Dozens of people showed up to help Mavis celebrate her birthday, most of them bringing a covered dish or an additional cake. The big, wooden record player was fired up and soon the little pub was reverberating with the sound of the records the villagers had brought with them--many of which happened to be old Beatles records.
"Dance with me," Mavis demanded when her favorite song, John's own "In My Life" began to play.
"I love this song," she told him, settling her cheek against his chest "It's so beautiful. A man who could write a song like this must have the most beautiful soul."
She looked up at him, searching his face with her eyes. "It's too bad he had to die," she whispered.
John said nothing, but his arms tightened around her.
"I heard about it over the radio, when he was shot," Mavis went on.
John was barely breathing.
"Hundreds of people were standing on the sidewalk as near as they could get to where it happened, and his widow said that she could hear them down there, singing, chanting, and crying throughout the night."
She placed her cheek against his chest again, feeling how hard and fast his heart was beating against her ear.
"He was so loved by so many people who never even were lucky enough to get to know him," she said. "So many people all over the world; especially here, I think. This island was his gift to our parents, you know."
John, of course, knew this very well, but he continued to be silent.
"I always thought he must be the most wonderful man," she went on. "I always knew he had to be so good and so generous. I was only six years old when he gave this island to us, but I remember him. He was dressed all in white, and so was the lady with him. He signed a paper and he shook hands with my father. After that, he noticed me and winked at me, and he made the funniest face. I laughed, and he tousled my hair and left with the pretty Japanese lady. She was his wife, and when they looked at each other, you could see the love shining out of their eyes and lighting up their whole faces."
John was breathing shallowly, his head spinning, his arms trembling as he held her.
"Do you know what I wished, right then?" asked Mavis, looking up into his face once more.
He didn't answer, but he shook his head, watching her eyes.
"I wished that someday, a man like that would look at me that way," she replied. "But he never came back, and I never did meet another man like that...until you came."
"I'm not like him," John finally said. "At least, I'm not like your idea of him. I'm a bastard, Mavis, and not worth yer notice."
She lifted her hand and traced the outline of his strong, square jaw.
"He had a fine, beautiful face," she said, ignoring what he'd said. "Like you do, Mr. Evans. He was a little different; his nose was a little larger, and his lips a bit more thin, and his eyes weren't blue like yours, but you are very like him," she insisted. "Especially when you smile with your eyes and all your teeth are showing. It's like I was back there that day with him smiling at me with the pretty lady standing beside him wearing the big, white hat over her cloud of jet black hair."
A stab of nostalgic pain caused his throat to constrict, and John blinked back hot tears. He remembered that day. To be honest, he did not remember the girl, not as an individual, but he remembered that there had been several children present. Most of all, he remembered that hat. Yoko in her big hat that made her look so small, her long, thick hair barely contained by it, framing her delicate face so that she looked to him like a flower.
A tear escaped and tumbled down his cheek, and he dashed it away with the back of one trembling hand.
"It's all right, John," whispered Mavis. "I won't tell anyone. Not ever. I promise."He drew in a deep breath, kissed her cheek, and told her they would talk later before excusing himself to the privacy of his room to collect his emotions.
Part Two Coming Soon!
Angel Godiva was actually was given that nickname by John Lennon, whom she met in L.A. in 1974 on her 21st birthday. She had yards of hair back then. She lives in Northern Connecticut with her second husband, and has been a Beatles fan since 1964, when she was 11. The high point of her life was meeting and getting to know John (though she never saw him again after he returned to NYC). She also writes poetry, and is currently working with an editor friend on her first novel.
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