Prompt: John's thoughts through the 9 days Paul has spent in prison
They told him Paul was in jail. That stupid prick. In jail for entering Japan with a half a pound of marijuana. A half a pound. He’d carried it in just like that. Like it was nothing. Like he didn’t know it would land him in jail. That he might be facing years if someone wanted to make an example of it. Stupid prick.
John’s heart ached in spite of himself.
“Isn’t there anything you can do about it?” he asked her.
She stared back with dead eyes.
“Oh, John,” she sighed.
It wasn’t that. It wasn’t like that at all.
“Doesn’t the injustice of the thing just… aren’t you angry? It’s your fucking country!” he said.
“He knew the consequences,” she said matter of factly. He did it anyway.“
“That’s true,” John agreed. “He knew.”
His heart ached all the same. After all this time. Paul was cut and he was bleeding.
He tried not to think about it. What good would it do? But every time he let his mind wander he would see Paul’s face, twisted in agony. The little lines between his eyes that formed when he was stressed. The lines he’d kissed so many times in the past.
He’d never kiss them again.
He asked Charlie Swan to read his cards. Three readings in and he finally gave in. He picked up the tower reversed.
“Delaying necessary destruction and change. A difficult time that is an essential lesson in life’s journey.”
No change necessary. Things were perfect.
“So… ask them if… is… ask about Paul in Japan.”
He didn’t have to clarify which Paul he was talking about.
“Ten of swords. The dark night of the soul. The blackest hour before a new dawn,” Charlie said. He pointed at the image of a man on the ground, pierced by ten broadswords. The black sky loomed above him with only the faintest golden sliver on the horizon.
“Give it to me straight. None of that cunty gypsy babble,” John said. He smoked furiously, his eyes on the brightly coloured cards.
“There was a betrayal. And now he’s bottoming out in jail. But he’s doing okay. Making the best of it. He’s ready for a new start,” Charlie explained.
“A betrayal,” John repeated.
He saw that dead look in Yoko’s eyes. Oh, John. Her thin lipped grimace whenever she could tell he was thinking of him.
He couldn’t sleep.
Paul was behind bars. And John was locked inside his mind. He imagined Paul beaten and bloody, pleading for mercy. He’d imagined Paul like that before, so many times. On his hands and knees. It used it turn him on. John choked back a sob. What was wrong with him? How could he have gotten off to that?
Paul had always been the well behaved one. No. That wasn’t true. He’d taken Brian’s propaganda for truth. The clever one, the cute one, the quiet one, the funny one. Bollocks. Paul was always breaking rules. They used to break them together.
“This is illegal you know?” John had said.
Paul had hovered above him, his clever fingers at work on the buttons of his clothing.
“Yes,” Paul had said. He’d sounded almost pleased.
“Don’t you care if they lock us up? Don’t you care if it’s in all the papers?”
Paul had laughed, pressed his mouth to John’s.
“They’re not going to lock us up.”
He’d driven the thoughts from John’s head with his hands and his sweet mouth.
John tried to get off, tried to let lust take over, stop the frantic thoughts in his head but his prick refused to cooperate. He couldn’t even wank anymore.
He dreamed Paul died in jail. They wrapped his corpse in white silk, covered him in jasmine. John woke up gasping for breath, his heart going so fast it hummed in his chest. Paul had been in jail four days. In Asian culture four meant death.
John called everyone he knew desperate to find if Paul was still alive. Then he had to pretend he didn’t really care. He had Charlie Swan come over and read his cards until the man’s voice cracked with overuse.
“I think you do care, John. You care very much,” Charlie said.
“Just read them again. Nevermind the analysis, Dr. Freud. Read the bloody cards.”
He read them again and again and again.
“He’s alive, John. They aren’t hurting him.”
John pictured Paul face down in the dirt while he was brutalised. Pictured him torn and bleeding. Some other man forcing himself inside him where he’d once allowed John to be.
He couldn’t shake the shadow of death. The smell of candles, of dead flowers, the sweet scent of decomposing flesh. He thought of Julia’s funeral. Uncle George. He thought of Stu. He wasn’t at Stu’s funeral. Never saw them put him in the ground, his beautiful friend. Would Yoko let him go, if Paul died? He couldn’t think. Fear ate him alive from the inside.
“He’s not dead. I asked,” Yoko said sharply. “You need to stop it now.”
He promised her he would.
“I know when you’re lying, John,” she said. “You have a tell.”
He didn’t give a flying fuck if she knew he was lying. All that mattered was Paul was alive.
He’d told so many people that he didn’t care about Paul’s arrest he was starting to believe it himself. He nurtured that anger, stoked it.He got himself all riled up until he was spitting. The fool. The half-wit. Fucking idiot. Just walking through customs with a half a pound of weed in his suitcase. He probably thought they’d let him off easy because he was famous. Because he was a Beatle. Paul McCartney. Well, he’d thought wrong. Yoko was right, Paul had known the consequences. Now he was reaping what he’d sown. The problem with him, the problem with Paul, was he was too clever for his own good. And he thought his pretty face would excuse any bad behaviour.
Every time John saw his face in the papers or on the telly his heart would still stop. Every time. He’d think to himself: what a wanker, what a cunt. Crowd-pleasing, ass-kissing sell-out. His body was another story. Whenever he heard Paul’s name he could feel every molecule in his being, exploding, frenzied, falling over themselves to figure out the quickest way to get back to Paul.
John hadn’t prayed in ages. Not since that misguided born again phase. He didn’t even know what he believed in anymore. Not religion, not meditation, not cards, not witchcraft.
(I just believe in me
Yoko and me
There was no reality. He slept all day with the television on. He wasn’t really in bed at all. He was flying. He was vapourous. He didn’t need drugs to blow his mind. He tried to hold onto something to ground himself in the present day. But Sean was too light to be his anchor and Yoko was adrift herself, her head in the clouds, morphine diacetate running through her veins.
John stepped out of the shell of his body. Weightless, he let the wind carry him east. Paul was sitting on his pallet, the sheets perfectly folded, not a thread out of place in the prison uniform they’d given him. His feet were on the ground, side by side.
All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay)
John sat beside him, sang harmony until his voice ran out. Sang that song he’d always professed to despise.
(Oh, I believe in yesterday)
John made his own fate. He always had. He bent reality into a different shape. Into one that pleased him. He’d done it before.
He turned The Quarry Men into The Beatles.
He rose from the ashes of his marriage to Cynthia.
He became John and Yoko when he couldn’t bear to look at John Lennon in the mirror any longer.
He made a Lost Weekend out of his fling with May.
He made Sean. He didn’t carry him but he was there every step of the way. And with Sean began a new era of John and Yoko.
This time the fabric of reality had slithered from his grasp. He couldn’t bend this into a new shape. He couldn’t fix what had happened with Paul. He hadn’t twisted his thing with Paul into a better opportunity. He’d grabbed hold of it with both hands and dashed it to the ground. Dashed it into so many pieces all that remained was a fine dust.
John ran his hands over the remains futilely. And then he started to cry softly.
(You took your lucky break and you broke it
You broke it
Broke it in two)
The number nine had always been John’s lucky number. He was born on the ninth of October. He met Yoko on the ninth of November. Hadn’t he? Had he?
The number eight is considered the luckiest number in Chinese numerology, that’s what May told him. That’s why when he woke up on the eighth day of Paul’s incarceration he felt a spasm of hope knife through him.
When he switched on the radio and heard “Silly Love Songs” he felt certain this was the day they would release Paul. He had been despondent for days and now he was flying high, rushing about the place like a man on fire. He wrote up a list of things he had to have and sent Fred on his merry way. Then he put on old Beatles records and danced till he felt sick and foolish.
He tried to read the books Fred brought him but he was twitchy, distracted, his heart leaping every time the phone rang. Sometimes for no reason a wave of vertigo would wash over him like an orgasm and he’d shut his eyes till the world stopped shaking.
He tried to eat but he couldn’t swallow a bite. Not even chocolate. Not even ice cream. It would have felt like the world’s worst hangover if he weren’t so damn happy. Paul would be released today for sure. They’d figure the rest out after that.
It was late in the evening when John realised it wasn’t going to happen. He thought about taking something for the pain. Then he realised he wanted to feel it. Wallow in it.
He lay down in bed fully clothed, pulled the covers over his head and held his breath. He didn’t sleep. He couldn’t think straight. A song flitted in and out of his mind. After a while he realised what it was. It would have been funny any other day.
Get back to where you once belonged)
What if they never released Paul? What if they made an example of him and John never saw him again? Never stood before him, taking in every last detail of his appearance the way he used to do when they were very young. Memorising every blemish, every line. What if he never put his arms around him and breathed in his scent? Never felt the familiar angles of his body against his again. Never felt Paul’s mouth against his, hard and then soft. Never tasted him. Never touched him the way he meant to again, like he always should have. Like a lover. No. Like a man in love.
John felt ill. He had done this. Like the severing of a healthy limb. He had pushed Paul out of his life and this happened. He was crippled now. They all were. John, Paul, George and Ringo. He had crippled them with his insecurity, his paranoia, his need to push anyone who got too close to him away.
They say familiarity breeds contempt. You never see what’s right in front of your face. 11000 km was what it took for John to see what he had lost. What he’d spent years pushing away.
The call came they’d decided to release Paul. They deported him back to England. It felt like the moment he’d been given his first guitar. Like making it to the toppermost of the poppermost. It felt like the first time he ever kissed Paul. Like the first time Paul ever played him a song, he realised was about him, John, not some silly bird. He felt the weight of years slide from him. Like he’d invented a time machine.
“I feel like I’ve been keeping a vigil for him. Not that I care, you understand,” John told Charlie.
They had been given a second chance to start over. Like Scrooge on Christmas Day. John vowed not to waste it. If he spent the rest of his life trying to get him back that would be enough. The thought of the future filled him with joy for once. His heart laughed with it.