Hope you enjoy.
WARNING: PLEASE REMEMBER THIS IS FICTIONAL. Just droplets of real factoids, but mainly I just made it all up!
JULIA AND MARY
It was in June 1955 that my Uncle George Smith suddenly died from a heart attack. He and I had just been sharing a few illicit licks out of a whiskey bottle and listening to rock ‘n roll music on the radio, and he got up to go down to his pub, and collapsed in the doorway to my room. At first, I thought he was joking with me, but I soon realized he was in trouble. The ambulance took him and my Aunt Mimi away, and I was left alone at Mendips. I was 15, so it wasn’t child abandonment, but it was pretty heartless of Mimi. She could have arranged for a neighbor to stay with me at the very least, or one of her sisters. She was gone for hours, and I was alone in the house, crying and scared and not knowing what was going on. I was sitting there in the sitting room when she got back. She looked horribly bleak, and told me flat out, “George is dead.” I collapsed into tears and she berated me, telling me to “pull yourself together, for goodness sake, we aren’t guttersnipes in this family!”
Mimi didn’t cry in front of me. Perhaps she cried in private; I have no way of knowing. All I saw was a bleak – almost grim – aspect for several weeks, which gradually wore down into her normal stern, unknowable expression. She didn’t even cry at the funeral. The entire Stanley clan was present, plus some relatives from the Smith family, and a single solitary man of George’s age who was weeping quietly far off by himself. I wondered who he was. No one spoke to him and he wasn’t introduced to anyone. It was almost as if he was banished. As I sit here today, older and wiser, I have a suspicion he might have been George’s lover. I surmise that they had an underground relationship, and always had to hide it. How sad and cruel the world can be.
Mimi would rigorously service George’s gravestone for years – every Sunday after church she would clean off the stone and place new flowers. But this was the only outward sign of grief I saw, once the bleak expression had faded off her face. I asked her once if she even loved George, since she had always snapped at him and didn’t cry for him. She told me in a flat, bored tone of voice that it was “a rude question, badly asked.” I didn’t get an answer.
After George died, Mimi was worried about money. She decided to take in a lodger to bring in extra money. She eventually found one – a physical sciences graduate student in his late twenties. It took me several months to figure it out, but they were having an affair. I was coming on 16, and it was disconcerting to say the least to hear the sounds coming out of Mimi’s bedroom. Mimi! Ms. Poker Face! Again – as an older and wiser man I wish I could turn back the clock and say to Mimi – “good on you old girl! Living all those years with a closeted homosexual! You deserved a bit of spice!” But of course, at the time, I was disgusted and scandalized. It was also a great blackmail opportunity. Whenever Mimi would start to get stingy or snippy with me, I could make a few references to “our dear lodger”, and she would buckle immediately.
School and Friends
I turned 15 on October 9, 1955. This was my first year at Quarrybanks, and I had already managed to establish myself as the coolest kid in my class. I soon had created – as I always did if left to my own devices – another band of brothers. I liked to have a group of boys around me at all times, a ‘gang’ of about at least 3 and up to as many as 6, or, as Paul likes to call them, “John’s little cabals.”
My first gang at Quarrybanks included my old friend Pete Shotton, who managed to talk his way into the same school as me so as to continue in his role as my right hand man and sidekick. Nigel Whalley lived near my neighborhood, too, and we soon became fast friends. I befriended boys left and right, and my first few months with them had a kind of honeymoon quality, and this would last until the next new intriguing boy came along. At the age of 15, I was completely uninterested in sex of any kind because of my experiences as a child, or, at least if I was, I was hiding it from myself. I was a Peter Pan, wanting to travel around with a band of naughty boys having naughty adventures. I had to be the undisputed leader of my pack, and I also wanted a hierarchy in my groups, with my second in command (Pete), and then they’d be informally ranked after that. My whims were such that one day you might be my No. 3, and the next day you’d be at the bottom of the pack. I intimidated all of the boys, using my sharp wit as a whip to keep them in line - a trick I had learned from Aunt Mimi. When any of them began to be distracted by girls, I’d kick them unceremoniously out of the group. Ultimately, the ones who stayed around for longer than a few months were slavishly loyal to me, laughed too long and too loudly at my jokes, and followed me without question while I conjured up and conducted various pranks and practical jokes, most of which had some kind of mean or hurtful twist to them aimed at a real or perceived authority figure.
The truth was I was filled with rage. All of the slights and betrayals from my childhood had combined to make me one very angry 15 year-old. I didn’t feel strong or powerful enough to be outwardly angry and aggressive, so my rage mutated into a subversive, snarky, and mean-spirited (but funny) verbal assault weapon, which I had learned from Mimi. If anyone got offended, I could simply say, “It’s just a joke.” Public ridicule is a very effective method of controlling people. No one likes to be embarrassed in public, and if they know you are quite willing to go there, and that when you do it will be scathingly funny and embarrassing at their expense, it is amazing how cooperative they’ll become.
This is not to say that the boys I collected around me were losers: Far from it. You would only even be considered for entry into my circle if there were something special, unique or cool about you. So, no one in the group was a loser. Each, in turn, was a star, a wit, or a talent. It was important to me not only to be the undisputed leader, but everyone in my group had to be a credit to me as well. The most important quality of all for me, however, was the cool factor. If you weren’t cool, then you weren’t in my group. In those days, to be ‘cool’ was a bit different than it is now, but still recognizable. For me at age 15 and 16, the defining element of ‘coolness’ was self-confidence - a belief in one’s self – and the ability to take ruthless razzing without blinking an eye. Yes, there were other elements, but in my eyes less necessary ones: good looks, smarts, and an indefinable something about you that drew people to you while you simultaneously pushed them away. In this way, I collected all the best and brightest of my schoolmates who were also “cool”, and we became the group to be in.
It was about this time that I first heard Elvis Presley on the radio. I will never forget it. I was lying in my bedroom late at night, with all the lights out, and smoking a ciggie (Mimi would have killed me if she knew). I put the radio under my pillow to muffle the sound, because Mimi didn’t allow me to listen to the radio after 9 p.m. The song “Mystery Train” came on. I was poleaxed and transfixed at the same time. It felt like a chemical reaction in my body. I sat up straight, pulled the radio out from under the pillow, turned up the sound and just listened to it. I got lost in the sound, and thus did not hear Mimi when she came storming in. Not only was I listening to the radio loudly after 9 p.m., but I was smoking in bed too! She was yelling and going on about it, and I kept yelling at her to shut up so I could hear the song. It was so frustrating!
I finally screamed at her, “Shut up you old hag I’m trying to listen!” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wanted them back. We both stood there staring at each other with shocked expressions on our faces. Surprisingly, she didn’t yell. What she did was much worse. When I got home from school the next day, my radio was gone. No amount of remonstrating would persuade her to give in. When she was out one day, I rampaged through the house looking for it, throwing things out of closets and on to the floors, and breaking open locked doors and shelves. When I didn’t find it, I took Mimi’s radio out of the front room, and moved it to my bedroom and listened to that. When Mimi came home and saw the mess I made, she was in a cold, silent rage. When she came to get her radio, I stood up and approached her menacingly. I told her she would get her radio back, when I got mine back. My rage was every bit as cold and silent as hers. We stared each other down for a good 30 seconds or so, and then she flounced out, slamming my door behind her. Eventually, one of my uncles brokered a peace, rewiring my radio and renegotiating my radio-listening rules so I could listen later at night. It was a patchwork kind of solution, but it held.
I began to collect Elvis records behind Mimi’s back. I didn’t have a record player, but some of my friends did. I used my lunch money to buy the records, but mainly I stole them from the discount stores down by the docks. I was quite the shoplifter in my day. I began to talk about learning how to play guitar. (Although, of course, I did not have a guitar, and I only knew one friend who had one, until I finally persuaded Mimi to buy me one in the summer of 1956.) Julia had a banjo, and she taught me banjo chords on that. Elvis led me to other singers, but none of them shone quite so brightly in my mind as did Elvis. He remained my favorite for years. The first time I saw him in action – it was in 1955 in a newsreel shown at the local cinema house – the girls were screaming and I was mesmerized. He was so sensual, natural, and sexy. He was dangerous - but in a good way – and he seemed to be bidding us all with the crook of his finger to follow him into some fertile, swampy never world where all the lights, and the rules, were off. I came out of that cinema and my whole body was thrumming and tingling, and I could neither think nor talk of anything else for days. That’s what I wanted to be. I wanted to be Elvis.
On non-schooldays, I started wearing my hair in an Elvis ‘do: A pompadour, tall and sweeping, with a perfect curl dangling over the forehead. My hair was too unruly, and I could never make it slick properly; nor could I find a hank of hair cooperative enough to form the de rigueur curl that fell down as if neglectfully onto one’s forehead. Instead, I would get a near-avalanche of curls falling into my face. I had a really decent pompadour if it wasn’t humid, but I never did manage to get the correct forehead curl. This bedeviled me for years.
In the late spring of 1956, on a bright Saturday afternoon, while I was languishing on the front doorstep of one of my “boys”, Ivan Vaughan, who lived across the street, I saw a beautiful redhead approach Mimi’s house, go up the walk, and knock on the door. She was slender, with vibrant red hair, and was wearing a white sundress with bright red cherries all over it. She looked smashing. I told Ivan I was going over to see whom it was. By the time I got there, the woman was in the front room arguing with Mimi. As I came in, she turned around and I realized it was Julia! She looked impossibly young and vibrant - bright and cheerful like a brand new copper penny. She did have a bit of a pout on her face, though.
“John!” she greeted me. “I’ve come to tell you the truth. I’m your mother, not your Aunt!” She just blurted it out, and my knees almost buckled. Mimi shouted at her and told her to leave, but Julia ignored her. “You’re old enough now to know, and you should know. Everyone else in the family knows, and it isn’t fair that you don’t know.”
I managed to speak. “I know you’re my Mum,” I told her quietly, “I remember you.” This brought Mimi’s shouting to a sudden halt. Mimi was staring at me in honest surprise. I saw the look on her face, and then I spoke to her: “I knew it all the time, Mimi, and I don’t know why you wanted me to think she was my Aunt. A bloke knows his own mother for Christ’s sake!”
First Mimi admonished me for saying ‘bloke’ and ‘for Christ’s sake’, and then she said, “You had to be protected from her. As long as you thought your mother was dead, you would be able to move on.”
“Was I supposed to think she was dead? I knew she wasn’t dead. I could see her with me own eyes, couldn’t I?” My voice was starting to clamp up, and I could feel tears starting.
First Mimi admonished me for using the slang “me own eyes”, and then she said, “We thought for sure you would forget her, and it would be for the best under the circumstances.”
“Who’s ‘we’ Mimi?” Julia suddenly shouted. “It was you – you were the only one! Everyone else went along with you, because we always do. But no one else thought it was a good idea to lie to John!”
Mimi turned to me, showing me a mixture of victory and vindictiveness that was deeply disturbing. “Your mother has been in a mental institution three times! She has three other children out of wedlock, plus you, out of three men! She is living in a state of sin, just one mile away! Suddenly she is interested in your welfare?” Mimi turned to Julia and said in a voice dripping with malicious satire, “How long will your interest in John last this time, Julia? Until your next breakdown? When is that due? You should be grateful to me for taking him in and caring for him while you were flailing about and behaving disgracefully!”
Whoa. I thought. This is way too much information, and none of it was good. I sat down on the sofa, and held my head in my hands. I didn’t know what to think, much less what to say. My mother and my aunt continued to shout at each other for several more minutes, and suddenly I couldn’t take it anymore and I ran out of the house, straight across the street, and over to Ivan’s house, where I collapsed on his front steps and burst into tears. Ivan was beside me in a heartbeat wanting to know what happened. I couldn’t speak, the words were tangling up somehow, and he was impatient. He wanted to know what happened. I knew I couldn’t tell him the truth, so after a while, I forced myself to stop crying, and I told him that my two aunts were having a slanging match, and it was too painful for me to hear. That seemed to satisfy him, and he patted my back and said, “Never mind, John, who cares what stupid things the adults get up to?” I plastered on my old friend - the fake smile - and pretended to put the episode behind me. But I stayed out late that day, getting myself invited to dinner at Ivan’s, because I wanted to delay the moment when I would have to see Mimi again.
Mimi made no mention of the episode, or any of the things that were said. She simply pretended as though it had never happened. I tried to open the subject once or twice, but she would shut it down, saying, “It’s all water under the bridge, now, and everyone did what they thought was best. It hardly matters after all this time.” And that was it!
As soon as I had an opportunity, I approached my cousin Stan. He had just graduated from secondary technical school, and was getting ready to go off to an advanced electronics course. I asked him if he knew about Julia – that she was my mother. He told me everything he knew, and apologized for not telling me sooner. “I didn’t think it was my place. I only found out myself a year ago, actually, but it seems everyone older than me in the family always knew.”
“I knew too, Stan, but since everyone else was saying the animal in the room was an elephant, I didn’t like to disagree and say, ‘no it’s a giraffe’.”
Stan laughed and said, “It was awkward for all of us. None of us liked it. My mother tried to talk Mimi into telling you the truth for years, to no avail. Mimi is a very stubborn woman.”
“You’re telling me?” I asked. And we both laughed. What are you going to do? You can’t change the past, you can’t relive it and do it right this time, the best you can do is try not to repeat it. Of course, I repeated this pattern of fearing abandonment and constructing façades over and over throughout the next thirty or so years of my life, apparently because I didn’t know any other way to deal with unpleasant truths.
A few days later Stan took me over to Julia’s – he showed me how to get there, and he babysat Julia’s two daughters – my stepsisters - so that Julia and I could go to Blackpool together. Mimi thought I was going to Blackpool with Stan.
I was completely uninterested in my stepsisters. If anything, I resented them. But I did so quietly, never letting it show, because that would reveal my own vulnerability, which was something I never wanted to do if I could help it. I resented them because they had their mother full time, and they had a full time father, and I never had any of that. I didn’t really get close to them until the 1980’s.
That afternoon in Blackpool with Julia was magical. I fell madly in love with the person she was on that particular day, and that is the Julia that I internalized for years afterward, and wrote about in the song ‘Julia’. Never mind all the other Julias I would meet in the next year – the one I wanted to remember was Blackpool Julia. There was one icky element to it, which, at the time I didn’t understand or grasp. She was inappropriately flirtatious with me. She was also inappropriately flirtatious with every man who crossed her path. She was enchanting in that mood, when her mania was high, and no one who didn’t know her could resist her. At one point she covered my face with little kisses, holding my head still with her two hands. It was impossibly erotic to me; I got a hard on. From my own mother! Christ! My conscience, such as it was, did an immediate crash and burn, racing through my body turning off the sex sensors, until I finally was able to pull away from this very strange brink. At another point she started dancing in a suggestive way to blues music on the jukebox in a diner in the middle of the afternoon at the beach, with a group of disapproving women glaring at her, and a bunch of infatuated men (their husbands no doubt) slobbering over her. That moment felt truly bizarre to me, and I didn’t know what to think. I decided to turn my brain off, and let my emotions lead.
My mother’s common law husband, John “Bobby” Dykins, was not happy to see me in his home, goofing around with his wife, while she behaved as if she were a teenager too – right in front of his two little girls. In the last few years I have tried to put myself in Bobby’s shoes. I hated and resented him for years for his coming between my mother and me. I once overheard them whispering angrily in the hallway outside their bedroom – Mum wanted me to live with her, and he was saying it would disrupt their home life, and that I was too wild, and he didn’t want to raise another man’s wild teenage son. I pretended never to have heard that, and in truth the only person I ever told this to my whole life was Paul – a few years after I met him. Paul of course, being Paul, never repeated it to a soul. I was deeply ashamed of it all, and my underlying insecurities and feelings of worthlessness just kept growing and growing.
That summer I also developed my first honest-to-god crush on a boy. I’m sure I was primed in that way based on the child abuse to which I had been subjected. I didn’t even know him. I began to see him in about June 1956, cycling in the nearby neighborhood of Allerton while I took buses down Mather Avenue. Sometimes he was delivering newspapers, and sometimes he was just riding his bike, and other times he was walking down the street with a few friends, or sitting a few rows ahead of or behind me on a bus. I noticed him right away because you could hardly help it. He was the most beautiful human being I had ever seen in person. He looked like Elvis to me, but obviously much younger. He had black hair that he wore in an absolutely perfectly slicked ducktail, and he had that longed-for roguish curl that would fall down on his forehead. He had the same kind of plump, pouty mouth that Elvis had, and similar cheekbones. He was also effortlessly cool. By that I mean he wasn’t trying to be cool. He was just - effortlessly - himself, and he didn’t appear to give a fuck if you took him or left him.
On more than one occasion I had sat near him on a bus and heard him talking to his friends. He had a compelling and sexy speaking voice, and was quick and witty in his comebacks. Nothing seemed to faze him, although he always seemed to be very kind and polite even to his friends, which I found odd: How does a bloke keep his friends in line if he doesn’t cuff them about a bit verbally?
I called him Little Elvis. I didn’t do this out loud of course; it was just what I called him in my journal. Each time I had a Little Elvis Sighting I would write about it in my journal. I was intensely drawn to this boy, and I didn’t know why, but I was also painfully shy about it, and didn’t dare approach him. There were many times I could have done so, but I never did.
One day, late in the summer of 1956, I was down at the Cast Iron Shore, this kind of beach-area near the Mersey River, so named because there used to be an iron factory there. I was there with a handful of friends, and we were throwing rocks and sticks and generally doing the kind of mindless crap teenaged boys do when they are in groups and bored out of their minds. I decided I needed ciggies, so I went to a nearby Abba’s (a kind of news and drugs store) to shoplift some ciggies. I came in from the bright light of the day to the dark interior and I was a bit blinded while my eyes adjusted to the change. Immediately I saw a shelf with candy on it, and I quickly grabbed a chocolate bar and shoved it in my pocket. Then I had that feeling you get when you feel someone was watching you while you were doing something you shouldn’t have. I turned around quickly and I saw Little Elvis, leaning on a broom, and wearing a green work apron. Our eyes met for a strained moment and I worried that I was going to get nicked. But then he winked at me and turned away, and continued sweeping.
Emboldened by this, and grateful to have this opportunity to show off in front of my crush, I headed for where the ciggies were stationed - next to a stand full of magazines. I picked up one of the magazines and pretended to be interested in it, but my eyes were really scoping out the ciggie selections. I finally spied my brand and as I began to reach out to grab a packet, Little Elvis breezed by and whispered,
“I wouldn’t. He’s watching.” And he flung his head back a little to indicate behind him. He kept sweeping and left my vicinity.
I turned and saw the shop owner behind the counter, arms crossed, and his face filled with suspicion. He was glaring at me. “Get out of here!” He ordered.
Ignominiously, I retreated. It was embarrassing to me that this happened in front of Little Elvis; I so desperately wanted to impress him. But as I brushed past him he said very softly, “I’ve a break in a few minutes. I’ll meet you at the end of the street.”
Now my heart was beating as if it would fly out of my chest. That face! That voice! That cool persona! I could barely contain my excitement. I got to the corner and I paced nervously for what seemed like forever, but finally Little Elvis stepped out of the door of the shop and looked around first, no hurry, stretching a little as if he were just enjoying the sunshine. At his own pace he seemed to turn at random in my direction, and walked insouciantly down the street, hands in pockets, whistling. He got to where I was and he did an amazing thing. He pulled a pack of ciggies out of his apron packet - my brand! And he handed them to me. He said, ‘don’t come back, or I’ll get fired. I need this job.’
I found it difficult to talk but I managed to ask, “How’d he cotton to me?”
Little Elvis smiled in a very cheeky way. “I’m sure it’s because he didn’t believe you would really be interested in the Ladies Home Journal you were looking at.” He laughed, and my world turned upside down. I was madly in love. Now I could say not a word. I was afraid of looking like a fainting girl, so I just nodded as if this were not an extraordinarily kind gesture for a stranger to make, and then I pulled out the chocolate bar I had lifted from the shop, broke it in two, and handed half to him. In response he favored me with a heartbreaking smile. The kind you can only dream about. “Ta!” He sang, and winking again, turned on his heel and headed back to the store, hands in pockets, whistling.
I stood there on the corner until he disappeared, and suddenly all the fun got sucked out of the day. On the bus going back home, I was berating myself for not introducing myself, and asking him who he was, where he lived, and everything else about him - every little detail. No detail would have been too small or unimportant to me at that stage of my crush.
It was this experience - these few moments in time - when I admitted to myself, however quickly before banishing it, that there was a strange kick to my gallop. I might be attracted to girls, and even enjoy fantasizing about having sex with them, but this thrill of being near Little Elvis was something I had never experienced before or imagined ever experiencing. It would turn out, in the fullness of time, that I would never experience it with anyone else again, either.
One of the consequences of the sexual awakening I had from my brush with Little Elvis and from spending so much time in my flirtatious mother’s company was that I was suddenly interested in sex generally. Once I put my mind to something –well, Nellie bar the door! I tried to seduce all the girls I knew, and many I didn’t know. I was unsuccessful every time. I finally found a girl willing to have sex with me. Neither of us knew what we were doing, but we thought we had sex. Later on it dawned on me that it is doubtful I ever really penetrated her vagina, but at age 15 I guess I thought if I waved my pecker in that general area we were having “sex”.
This one abortive attempt led me to research the topic more thoroughly, so my gang and I started to shoplift dirty magazines, or steal them out of barbershops. We’d share the magazines – pass them around to each other – until we’d all seen them all. I started to get a better idea of what was required to successfully do the deed.
On the night of my 16th birthday on October 9, 1956, Mimi gave me a party and my mates were all there. They had arranged a “surprise” for me with a girl who was 2 years older than us, who was also a semi-pro. That was my first sexual experience with a female, and I have to say I enjoyed it very much! So much, that now – armed with experience and knowledge – I again began to prey on the unsuspecting girls in my circle of friends. Now I began to have about a 20% success rate, which isn’t bad for a 16 year old approaching 15-year old virgins. I was too intimidated to go for the older girls, so I was a bit like a predator, cutting off the younger, weaker ones from the herd, and running them to ground. I developed quite a reputation, and the girls were soon warning each other about “that Lennon boy.”
It was near the end of the summer of 1956 that I took action to start that band I was always talking about. It was after Mimi broke down and bought me a guitar. I discussed it with Pete and Ivan; Pete was amenable, but Ivan passed. My friend Nigel Whalley didn’t want to be in the band, but he was willing to be a sort of quasi-manager, trying to find us gigs, and helping us to lump equipment. When the school year started I gathered up my group of cool friends and bullied them into joining the band. Only one of them could play an instrument, and honestly I could not, but we gamely divided up the instruments: I, of course, would play the guitar along with Colin Hanton, Pete volunteered for the “washboard”, with Len Garry handling the weird ‘tea chest’ bass, which was a staple in skiffle groups. Two other friends played banjo and drums: Eric Griffiths and Rod Davis, respectively.
Early in this process, in about October of 1956, Ivan Vaughan mentioned to me a boy he knew from his school – the Liverpool Institute - as a possible band member candidate. “He is the coolest boy there,” Ivan said simply.
His name was Paul.
Mary McCartney had finally worked up her nerve to read John’s book. She’d read about it in reviews, and she knew Stella had read it and really loved it. But there was something so personal about reading what everyone said was a very telling and intimate book when one of the subjects of that book was her very own father. The parts that the reviews always centered on were ones that involved her father’s intimate relationship with John, and then of course what they all saw as the strange 3-way marriage they’d shared with her mother, Linda. John had been very kind and loving in his descriptions of her mother. She suspected he held stuff back - probably stuff that she and her siblings would be upset by. She was grateful for that; she had known from her own experience that there were times when John and her mum didn’t get along, and hurt each other, but she had no desire for the whole world to read about it.
She had gotten through the Foreword and the Preface. Thus far the information she had read about her father was family lore that she had heard before, but written in John Lennon’s voice. But in the first half of Chapter 1 she had read about John’s first impressions of her father, who could only have been 14 years old at the time, and it made her blush a little. It felt so intimate, almost like the time - when she was 12 - she had stolen a look at her parents’ old love letters, which Linda had ‘hidden’ in her top dresser drawer. (There was no hiding place safe from the marauding McCartney children.)
For some reason, Mary was reluctant to read the end of Chapter 1. She knew what was coming: the death of her grandmother happened at the end of 1956, and the time line was moving inexorably in that direction. She had learned more about the facts surrounding her grandmother’s death from her Uncle Mike; her dad rarely spoke of it, and when he did, it was in the sketchiest of strokes. She wondered if John had been able to pry more detail out of her father and Mike, and maybe some of the questions she carried with her for years would be answered.
Her ponderings were interrupted by her sons Arthur, 6, and Elliott, 2½. Arthur was upset that Elliott kept touching his Legos. This concerned Mary, because Elliott hadn’t quite grown out of the putting-things-in-his-mouth stage. She mediated their dispute by moving Arthur’s Legos on to the kitchen table, which Elliott couldn’t reach, and then sitting down on the sitting room floor and doing a puzzle with Elliott. Elliott had been barely affected by her separation and pending divorce from his father, but Arthur was still unsettled by it. Mary made sure the boys had plenty of time with their dad, but a divorce had never been in her plans. She had wanted a long-lived marriage, like her parents had, and like her dad and John had. But Alistair had found Mary’s success as a professional photographer to be a difficult thing to accept given his own lack of success as a producer and director, and a complete breakdown in their communications followed. The bitterness had been unbearable for Mary, and even though there was pain associated with being separated, she found the peacefulness in her home now to be a relief.
She was able to put Elliott down for his nap, and she sat on the sitting room sofa with Arthur, who was snuggled up with his favorite blanket and ‘resting.’ (He preferred to take a ‘rest’ rather than the baby-like ‘nap.’ Mary was happy to oblige in this subterfuge.) She decided she would pick up John’s book later, when her mood was better. Late afternoons were the most melancholy time for her.
Just as she was contemplating how lonely she felt, her cell phone buzzed softly. She looked at it and saw her sister’s number, and she smiled reflexively. She and Stella were so close; Stella always seemed to know exactly when Mary needed her. She picked up the phone and moved into the kitchen, so as not to awaken Arthur from his ‘rest.’
On her end of the phone, Stella was breastfeeding her 10 month old son, Miller. She had taken the day off from work because Miller had been running a fever, no doubt because of the inoculation he’d received the day before.
Stella said, “I had lunch with John the other day - he came with me to Miller’s doctor appointment. He thinks we should all get together over the New Year - maybe spend a week or so together. What do you think? Can you get away?”
Mary had nothing but time over the holidays, as no one was booking photo shoots at this time of year. She grabbed at the chance of going away somewhere exotic and being surrounded by her family. She was somewhat envious of Stella’s husband, Alasdhair. He was so enterprising and hard working and successful! He never discussed how much money Stella was getting out of her trust fund, and he insisted that she keep that money separate and that they should live off their own incomes. The only money he had received from Paul was the seed money for buying their first home together, plus the original investment by Paul in Stella’s business. It was ‘seed money’ because Paul had gifted the money to Stella when she was already on the rise as a designer and wanted to buy a house. Stella was unmarried at the time. But when she and Alasdhair got together, they wanted their own home, so they used the equity in Stella’s first home as the major down payment on their new home, and her income from the business to support their loan. Other than that, and the occasional family vacations, Alasdhair wanted none of Paul’s money. If only Alistair had thought that way...
“Mary? Are you there?” Stella asked.
Mary was snapped out of her reverie and said, “Yes - of course! Alistair has the boys for several days starting on Christmas afternoon, and I get them back on the 29th. I can join you all then, if you’ve already left by then.”
“Nope, we’re planning around you, Mary,” Stella said firmly. “John specifically said so. So I’ll tell him to consider starting the holiday on the 30th.”
Mary was relieved. She was so ready to get away from the dreary London weather, and the dreary moods it inspired in her. When she hung up after a longish chat with Stella, Mary immediately called John.
“How ya doin’ baby?” John cooed into the phone.
Mary grinned. “I’m doing a lot better now that Stella has told me about the New Year’s trip.”
“Oh wait a mo - that’s Stella on the other line - do you two have some kind of ESP?” John asked. He pushed a few buttons and soon they were on a three-way conversation. They all chatted happily about this and that for about a half hour. At one point Stella asked,
In response, John and Mary chanted together, “In the music room.” Everyone laughed.
“Do you think he’ll slow down when he gets older?” John asked the girls.
“Hasn’t he already?” Mary asked.
“Maybe,” John opined, “but the part I hadn’t anticipated was that I would slow down too as I got older, so he seems to me to be as full of piss and vinegar as he ever was.”
When Mary hung up she felt very much better. Her mood had lifted. And she promised herself that soon she would pick up John’s book and continue to read it.