It's Easy if You Try
by Faye Robertson
The light is so bright it's hurting my eyes. I raise my hand to shield them and look around, wondering where I am. The room is large, the windows on one side overlooking a busy street. Huge mirrors on the opposite wall reflect the contents of the room - a drum kit, all shiny white toms and gleaming cymbals; microphone stands; various guitars. I dredge their names up from the deeply buried memory of my youth: Rickenbackers, Fenders, a Hofner bass. It looks like a recording studio.
I can see myself in the mirrors, a tallish, fifty year old man with thinning hair, dressed in scruffy jeans and a red jumper. My head hurts, and I feel confused. What am I doing here? The last thing 1 remember is walking along the beach at Teignmouth, thinking about Lizzie.
"Oh I'm sorry, is the light a bit bright for you?" I nod at the voice, and the dazzling glare dims. The voice continues: "Are you feeling all right?"
"I have a headache..." I turn to see who has spoken. I stare incredulously, recognising instantly the man with his small, round glasses and long hair. "John Lennon?"
"That's me," he said, his distinctive Liverpool accent as strong as ever.
"I don't understand." I know that it can't possibly be him. But he seems so real. I can't help feeling excited at meeting the man I have admired for so long.
"They sent me to talk to you," he says.
"They?" I glance around the room, at the Rickenbackers leaning on chairs, the microphones waiting for someone to bring them to life. "I feel so confused. I don't remember coming here. Where am I?"
"Can't you guess?" John asks gently.
I try hard to think. I had been walking along the beach. It was our anniversary - Lizzie's and mine; I had been upset, thinking about her. I stopped to look at a stall selling stones; they were pretty, rainbow coloured, some painted with birds and butterflies. I remember thinking: Lizzie would have liked them. The owner of the stall stood up as I approached. He was wearing round glasses, just like John's. He must have seen my pale, strained look and asked if I was all right, and I mumbled something and left him without buying anything.
I had walked to the edge of the promenade overlooking the beach and stood watching the water. The sea looked icy cold, grey as iron, the waves like cruel metal rollers grinding and heaving together. The salt had stung my eyes - or was it tears, ever-present since Lizzie's death, threatening to fall? I missed her so much. I imagined that water closing over me, filling my lungs...
And then... what? A sensation of the ground giving way beneath me. The sound of a siren, a long way off. Then everything had gone black until the brilliant light in the studio woke me up...
I stare at John, and he nods as he sees that I understand. "Where's Lizzie?" I ask hoarsely. "I thought she'd be here waiting for me when I passed."
John looks shocked. "Oh, you're not dead," he says bluntly. He looks up at the ceiling. "See, I told you I'd make a mess of it." He sighs and draws me to a couple of chairs, motioning for me to sit next to him. "I've been sent to tell you that's it's not your time yet."
"This isn't heaven?"
"It's a sort of in-between place where people like me, who are on the other side, can talk to people like you, who aren't."
I look out at the street, with its red brick buildings and tree-lined pavement. "It looks like London."
"Well, we're in Abbey Road, of course. You can make your own Heaven here. This is pretty much mine."
"Oh." I look at him, at his sure smile. Much as I'm thrilled to see him, I wish it were my wife sitting next to me. "Why didn't Lizzie come?"
John leans forward. "They were worried that if you saw her, you wouldn't want to go back."
I twist the ring on my finger, looking down at the bright band of gold. "I don't. There's nothing for me there."
"Nothing?" He looks puzzled. "What about your children, your grandchildren? Don't they need you?"
"They have their own lives now. They don't want to waste time worrying about me."
"Now, now," he scolds gently, "that's not the Nick that Lizzie knew and loved."
I say nothing. I know he's right; I've changed since Lizzie died, drawn into bitterness and regret at being left on my own. "I just miss her," I say. My voice catches in my throat.
"I know." He touches my arm briefly, then sits back in his chair. "But there's plenty to live for. And when it's your time, Lizzie will be here, waiting for you."
"I don't want to be a burden to my children. I'm afraid they'll grow to resent me." It's one of my greatest fears.
"It's hard, being the one left alone," he agrees. "But you have to create a life for yourself again. There's so much in the world to do and see. You just have to rediscover it all."
"Like what?" I ask, rather pathetically.
He grins. "Like singing!"
"Singing?" I laugh, and then sober at the twinkle in his eyes. "You're serious?"
"Why do you think they picked me to see you? Weren't you in a band once?"
I think about me and my teenage friends, playing in my mum's front room. We called ourselves 'The Nowhere Men', a concession to one of our favourite Beatles' songs. I smile at the memory. "That was a long time ago, John. A long time ago."
"And you think your voice has disappeared? It's like riding a bike - you can't forget it." He leans over and picks up a beautiful Gretsch guitar. "Here. You have this one." He hands it to me and lifts his favourite Epiphone that I've seen so many times on the films of him in concert. "Come on, let's begin with one of your favourites." He plays the opening chords of Ticket to Ride.
I watch his fingers forming the C7, E minor, F chords. I haven't played for over thirty years. My fingers start to shadow his, however, and soon I'm playing along with him, and singing too, the words coming easily, resurrected from their long burial deep within my brain. Soon I'm harmonising with him like Paul used to do.
We play for hours, all of their best tunes, the early ones, Help, I Feel Fine and Hard Day's Night, the later Beatles' songs like Get Back, Come Together and Strawberry Fields and, of course, Imagine, the song that Lizzie and I used to dance to when we first met.
"What a wonderful dream," I say as we strum the final chords of the song.
"It's not a dream."
"But I can't really play like this."
He looks at me over the top of his glasses. "In this place you are able to witness your full potential. This is what you will be able to achieve, if you practise."
"It would take a miracle to make me harmonise like that in real life!" I laugh, although a tingle of anticipation flickers through me.
"But this is the place for miracles." He winks at me, then breaks into another of my favourites, It's Only Love.
I get high when I see you go by, my oh my...
I open my eyes. I'm lying in a hospital bed, and Georgie, my daughter, is bending over me, her tears falling onto my face. "He's awake!"
Immediately I see Adam appear beside her. My son's relief is evident.
When you sigh my inside just flies... Butterflies...
"Music..." I manage to croak. I can hear Lennon's voice clearly in the background.
Georgie looks over her shoulder at the CD player. "We've been playing them all, Dad, over and over, hoping that you'd hear them and come back to us..." Her voice dries up.
I look around the room. I'm clearly in hospital. The siren makes sense now.
"How long?" I croak.
My son squeezes my hand. "Two weeks. A very long two weeks!"
A nurse appears and checks my monitors, smiling at me. "Good to see you back with us, Nick!"
"I need a drink." Georgie helps me sip some water. As she puts the cup back down, I notice a large stone lying next to it. "What's that?"
Georgie picks it up. "We found it in your hand. The man on the stall said you bought it just before the promenade railing gave way and you fell."
She gives it to me. I frown. On the front is a beautiful picture of a butterfly, painted in bright colours. My oh my... I turn it over; there is one word painted in the middle. Imagine.
My breath catches in my throat. "I didn't buy it..."
Georgie exchanges a glance with the nurse, who pats my hand. "Short-term memory loss is quite usual with loss of consciousness, don't worry about it."
I look at the stone. I know I didn't buy it. Why had the man given it to me? Had I seen the word, and that - and the man's glasses - triggered the dream about John Lennon? Or had it all been real?
I motion to Georgie and she puts the stone back on the table. David bends over me. "We thought you were going to join Mum."
I clear my throat. "I'm not going anywhere," I say, rather croakily. "I've still got things I want to do."
"I'm going to take guitar lessons."
David grins. "Are you going to resurrect 'The Nowhere Men'?"
I stare at him seriously. "John Lennon said I should give it a go."
Georgie stares at me, then looks hastily at the nurse. "Is his oxygen count down again?"
I laugh, knowing they don't understand. But I'm not worried. I know that I met him; I feel it in every bone in my body. I still miss Lizzie, of course, but now I feel certain that one day we'll meet again. Until then, I've plenty of time to learn how to play the guitar and sing. And I'm going to make the most of every minute.
©2003 Faye Robertson
Faye would love to hear what you think of her writing - email her now