Tuesday. July 15th, 1958. Today was the day. Tonight was the night. Julia Lennon’s last moments on Earth.
The sun was setting, and I didn’t have much time. I found John in the box porch. He sat on the checkered floor and strummed on his guitar. I swung open the door nearly knocking into him.
“Have you seen your mom today?” I asked anxiously.
“No,” he said hesitantly. “But I’ll see her later tonight. I’m planning to spend the night at her house.”
“That’s right. You are.” I closed my eyes and all the blood from my face drained into the bottom of my stomach.
“Something the matter?” he asked.
“John, hey, um…” I tried to conceal my shaking hands but couldn’t help rubbing my brow and touching my face. “Maybe you should stay here tonight instead.”
John cocked his head, with a hint of an amused smirk.
“You know just in case your mom wants to visit Mimi or something. And then you can walk her home or whatever. Make sure she gets home safe,” I said, spelling it out for him in black and white.
“That’s alright. I’ll be at Paul’s later anyway. I was just going to head round on the way back.”
I wanted to collapse into a panic attack. But he must not have picked up on it.
“We recorded an album last Saturday,” he said.
“That’s great for you guys. I’m glad.”
I could hear the passing off in my own voice. John’s chest compressed as he curled into his guitar. I was a complete and absolute wreck. And I knew what the iceberg was. Julia.
“Sorry, I have to go see someone,” I announced suddenly, stepping over John and opening the front door knocking him from the other side. As soon as I had slipped out, Lennon jumped to his feet.
“Hollywood!” he called after me before I had set foot on the drive.
There was this uncomfortable pause. John leaned against the porch with the guitar still strapped around him. At first, he kind of seemed like he was struggling with what he was going to say. His cheeks were flushed even more pink than I would expect from playing in the sun beaten porch.
“Talk to you later,” I said. I didn’t have time for another staring contest with this massive problem to solve. I started down the drive again.
“I was thinking about asking out that Cynthia girl from Hoylake,” he said, suddenly.
My heart dropped. I slowly turned around.
“Does that bother you?” he asked, his chin tilted.
“B-bother me?” I asked, trying not to show John how I was internally screaming. “No. No, no, no. I mean. That’s— She’s very pretty. You should. Yeah. I mean, well you know, she’s kind of the opposite of you and like you probably wouldn’t even get along or anything. So, I wouldn’t hold up that much hope for it.”
John’s lips curled inward but it didn’t hide his grin.
“But, yes, of course.” I shook my head. “I mean, no! No, it doesn’t bother me at all. Why would you think it would bother me?”
“I dunno,” he said, with a laugh. “Clearly, I was wrong to think so.”
I could feel my flustered worry burning through the sides of my face. “I have to go. Sorry,” I squeaked out before rushing off.
I ran to Thorne’s hotel with determination. He was just going to have to be okay with the change of plans. He was just going to have to deal with it.
I knocked on the door, the rapping echoed through the hall as my frantic knuckles beat mercilessly on the wood. I didn’t stop until Thorne opened, then I pushed past him inside.
“Okay, I need to change the plan,” I said as hurried as possible. “This is not going to work, so we need to adapt.”
“What’s not going to work?” he asked, his heavy eyelids blinking slowly as he shut the door behind himself.
I brushed my hair to the side and put my hands on my hips. “Julia,” I said. “We can’t let her die. We need to alter the timeline. We need to keep her from getting hit by that car.”
Thorne sat calmly in his armchair. “That’s not your proposal,” he said. “The mission that was approved by the Board of Time Travel includes the death of the mother as being a key instrument in getting close to Lennon.”
I knew he was going to put up a fight, but his determined cold heart still made my jaw drop.
“That proposal was wrong. I was wrong,” I said. “Yes, he got close to Cynthia after the death of his mother. But Julia’s death was his driving creative muse for the rest of his life! It was because of her death that he bonded with Paul. I can see that now. I can see that if we want to break up the Beatles we have to start with Julia Lennon! She’s the pinnacle.”
Thorne crossed his arms over his chest. “If this were true,” he said cocking his head. “Then why didn’t you incorporate it into your proposal in the first place? I don’t think her death is the cause of the Beatles. I think her life, her encouragement and support where the cause of John’s interest. That interest is only going to cultivate and grow with her presence.”
“It grows without her anyway, so what does it matter?” I asked, my voice raising.
“Because we need him in a vulnerable position, to fall for you.”
“My proposal was wrong,” I said. “They were just names on a projected screen. John. Paul. Julia. I didn’t know it was going to be like this. I didn’t understand the dynamic.”
“You’re too soft,” Thorne said. “You can’t be concerned with these people’s lives when you are expressly here to ruin them.”
I covered my face with my hands. Wall of glass. They didn’t feel like they were behind a wall of glass. This didn’t feel like an illusion. They were real. They were right there. I was messing up their timeline. Manipulating a young boy into making the wrong choice. And letting his mother get killed in the process.
“I can’t traumatize John into loving me. I won’t.” I whipped around and ran for the door.
Suddenly, Thorne reached into his pocket and drew his gun on me. I stopped in my tracks and stared at it dumbfounded. The barrel pointed right at my chest.
“What are you doing?” I asked in a low angry tone.
Thorne didn’t flinch. “You are not going to save Julia.”
“You can’t hurt me, Thorne,” I said. “I got that body armor mod, same as you. You can’t shoot me.”
“No. You’re right,” he said, not moving the gun away. “I can’t shoot you. But I can shoot anyone else here.”
I could feel my chest rising and falling with each heaving breath.
“If you save Julia, I will consider this mission to be compromised and I will go ahead and terminate John. I would be more than happy to do that, since it’s a cleaner sample for me,” he said, pocketing his gun. “So, you can choose right here and now. Is it Julia? Or is it John?”
I kept my eye on him, but there was nothing in his dark cold stare to insinuate the slightest suggestion that he might be joking. He was making me choose between a seventeen-year-old boy full of life or a forty-four-year old woman equally full of life.
“I choose…” I swallowed. “John.”
Thorne nodded gravely. He pocketed his gun but didn’t move away from his spot by the door. “Stay here,” he said, his tone still the same.
“Stay here? Why?” I asked, my irritation rising. “I have things to do. And besides if someone sees me in your hotel room, that could look—”
“You can leave the room at nine thirty-one pm.” Thorne unhooked the watch on his wrist and threw it at me. I caught it sloppily. The time read 7:55.
I pressed my lips together tight. He knew me too well. He knew where I was trying to go. My eyes burned. I felt this desperation inside of me like a cat trying to claw its way out of a plastic bag. I had to get out. I had to get to Julia somehow.
I spent the first hour, chewing my nails off trying to think of a way to get past Thorne who was diligently guarding the only door to the room. Every single solution I thought of, John would get shot. Knock Thorne out cold. Save Julia. Thorne wakes up and shoots John. Fake some elaborate emergency to convince him to let me go. Save Julia. Thorne finds out and shoots John. Trick Thorne into following me back through the portal. John becomes famous. David Mark Chapman shoots John.
“I feel sick,” I said, no emotion in my voice. “I’m going to go to the bathroom.”
Thorne gave me a long, low exhale through his nose. I took that as a yes and exited left into the attached bathroom.
As soon as I was out of sight of Thorne. I covered my face with my hands, slid down the wall and sat on the floor.
It was coming. 9:30 was coming. The car was coming. Julia would be crossing that street and that off duty policeman would run her over.
I felt so sick that I knelt at the toilet and put the lid up, fully expecting to empty my guts inside of it.
The watch face read 9:08 PM
We were about fourteen flights up and the window was too small to climb out of. Not only that but Thorne was watching everything I did. Live stream. Even if I turned my camera off. It would notify him in less than fifteen minutes. What could I do in less than fifteen minutes that would save Julia?
Under the sink I caught a glimpse of a large paper book. I kept the camera in my body pointed at the toilet and leaned over to kick the book into view with my shoe. It was a Liverpool telephone directory.
I stared at it for a while. Working through an idea in my mind. If I made a phone call on my IND, would it patch through to that landline in 1958? Or would it connect me to someone in the UK from 2109?
I started the water in the shower and undid my top button. “Camera override, off,” I commanded.
As soon as it powered off, I snatched the phone book and flipped the pages to Smith. There were hundreds and hundreds and thousands of Mary Smiths.
“C’mon. C’mon.” I groaned and ran my finger down the page. It was taking too long. I could feel each minute like a meat grinder, pulling me closer and closer to nine thirty. Page after page until finally I saw Mary Smith 251 Menlove Avenue.
“There you are. Perfect.” I activated my IND and gave it the number. The screen before me went blue. Connecting. Connecting. Connecting. Connecting.
I rubbed my brow ferociously. What seemed like forever, the loading screen finally went blank. Unable to connect.
I groaned. Maybe the 1958 number wasn’t working after all. I tried again.
Connecting. Connecting. Connecting. Connecting. Unable to Connect. Party is not answering.
Of course. They couldn’t hear the phone ringing because Mimi was talking to Julia in the front yard. She would be leaving soon. My stomach wrenched but I tried again.
Connecting. Connecting. Connecting. Connecting.
I sat up straight. Mimi. Her voice was so faint. But it was there. I had connected with her rotary phone with my internal device. I could hardly believe it.
“Mimi,” I said as urgently and as quietly as possible. “You can’t let Julia walk home tonight. Don’t let her leave. Have her stay the night with you.”
“What’s that?” Her voice crackled.
My heart sank. Sure, a genius move with the shower. Thorne couldn’t hear me. And neither could Mimi.
“Don’t let Julia leave.”
“I can’t hear a blasted thing,” she grumbled.
“No, no, no, no! Don’t hang up!” I said probably too loud on my end. “Julia. Don’t let her leave! Don’t let Julia leave.”
“You want to speak to Julia?” Mimi asked. “She left for home ten minutes ago.”
Everything froze in the greyest and darkest composition. The water seemed to spurt from the shower head in slow motion. The pattering on the tile floor as violent as the unstoppable car careening down Menlove Avenue.
“Emmeline!” Thorne banged on the door. “You compromise this mission, I’ll kill him! I will!”
“Hello?” Mimi tried one last time before hanging up on me.
Suddenly, there was a clatter from Thorne’s room and a slow clear liquid flooded under the door and across the tile floor. I reached behind myself and shut the shower off, staring at the growing puddle. Then the strong smell of antiseptic hit me. Oh no.
Thorne’s body hit the floor with a loud thud. I covered my mouth, but it was too late. I slumped into the shower. The room spinning violently until finally everything went black.
I woke to a pounding headache. My eyes were blurred, and I couldn’t get my lids to extend to their fullest. I picked my head off the wet floor. It was a slow process, everything hurt.
It took all my effort to reach the few feet so I could see the face of Thorne’s watch. 11:54 pm. I didn’t get to her in time. She was gone.
I propped my elbows against the walls to pull myself up. My legs felt like jelly and I still had to walk across the puddle of PCMX that had knocked me out. I pulled my sweater over my mouth and nose and shuffled through the anesthetic fumes.
I opened the door right into Thorne’s unconscious body. The lid to the bottle of cleaner still in the palm of his hand. He had succeeded in keeping me from saving her. I could have thrashed him awake and screamed at him for what he had done, but I had to leave that hotel room.
The series of minutes walking to Mendips where some of the strangest and worse I’ve ever experienced. I felt empty and cold. And that was it. I wouldn’t let myself feel anything else. It seemed inappropriate either way because I had done this. I had drafted the proposal. I had killed Julia.
The blurry minutes melted into days, as the news of her death was confirmed. People were in and out. Policeman collecting statements. Neighbors giving condolences. And John himself had become a ghost. I would only catch glimpses of him here and there. Quietly turning up the stairs. Shutting the bathroom door behind himself.
A part of me begged for that explosive anger issue from him. I wanted him to tear apart his bedroom and wail and moan. Something. Anything. But he did none of that. He did nothing. Not even the sound of a sigh came from the other side of that bedroom wall. He was a completely different person. Like he had died right along with her.
The funeral services were that weekend. Mimi held a small luncheon at her house. Friends and family members gathered at Mendips in their black dresses, smartest suits, and pillbox hats. Mimi had this blotchy, stone face as she bustled around serving her eggs and chips and tea.
I mostly stayed out of the way, sitting in the farthest corner of the living room. Too empty to even have a sip of tea. As much as I tried to stay away from the mourners, I couldn’t get away from conversations about John.
“I heard that he refused to look at his mother in the hospital,” a nearby woman whispered.
“Not even to say goodbye?” Another asked.
A third gossiper joined in. “Did you see? When the services started, he spent the entire time laying in Mary’s lap. Like a little child. Can you imagine? He’s nearly eighteen years old.”
“Well, you know that’s still such an impressionable age. Who knows what kind of a thing that could do to a person.”
“And she’s already been having so much trouble with the boy, Poor Mary.”
“Mm, I can’t imagine.”
My heart twisted. I escaped the gossipers and went to the small table of food. I loaded a plate with everything available and took it upstairs. Every step I took was like another rock in my stomach. John’s door was open the slightest crack, but I knew he was in there. I had seen him escape the horrible small talk of the tragedy and hide in his room.
I knocked. No response.
“John?” My voice sounded as defeated as my soul but still I opened the door with the tips of my fingers.
There, he sat on the edge of his bed staring out of the window. His dark wiry hair neatly combed, and his suit coat on.
I stepped on that loud creaky spot of the floor, but John didn’t turn around. Finally, I sputtered out something. “I fixed you a plate,” I said weakly. “I figured you didn’t want to be down there with everyone, so I brought it up to you.”
He turned his head just slightly enough that I could see the silhouette of his hooked nose against the sunlit window.
“Thanks,” he said, so weak and so soft, the exact antithesis of how I knew his voice to be.
I set the plate on the nightstand next to his bed, making some room amidst all his books and papers. He kept staring out the window.
My nose pricked and stung. A great nauseous bubble swelled inside of me and tears lined the bottoms of my lid. I wished it had been me that had gotten hit by that car. I should have been the one to stop it. I should have screamed at Thorne until he let me go. I should never have drafted that proposal. I should have—
Suddenly, I found myself collapsing next to him on the bed, desperately and uncontrollably sobbing. Wrapping my arms around him and holding him as tight as possible.
“Oh, John!” I barely got out the words. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.”
I could feel my tears dampen the shoulder of his suit. But I didn’t let him go. John slowly brought his hand up and placed it over mine.
As soon as the warmth of his hand touched mine, I felt the distinct time-splitting tug inside of me. Like my ribcage pulling in two different directions. My crying slowed into misplaced breaths and we sat in quiet until the guests left the house.