I couldn’t believe how cold 1950s England was. In May even. As we made our way along the river bank the wind chill against my soggy wet skirt was almost too much to bear. How did people live like this? How could they deal with this kind of cold? I wanted to die already.
But as soon as we reached the streets of the city, I forgot about the cold. This was all I had ever dreamed of since I was little. To be back in time and to be walking the streets of a young city that could never be known in my lifetime otherwise. Every little detail I wanted to stop and gawk. The streetlights. The old cars parked on the street. Beautiful vintage signs over doors and shops. I wanted to experience it all, completely and breathlessly immerse myself in 1958.
“Thorne, look at this!” I said, giggling my way to a phone booth. An actual phone booth, bright red with a carving of the crown on the top. I immediately opened the door and leaned inside. I had to. It was compulsory.
Thorne gave me a stiff glare as I examined the artifact. I picked up the ‘receiver’ of the ‘telephone’. I didn’t know which end did what, so I held it to my mouth like an old microphone. “Hellooooooooo.”
There were two buttons, labeled A and B. I pressed A and nothing happened. When I pressed B a bunch of coins noisily spit out and jingled onto the floor.
Thorne rolled his eyes at me. “Stop touching things before you accidentally alter this timeline.”
I balanced the receiver back on its place. “Really glad you’re my partner, Thorne. You’re a real barrel of fun.”
He stormed ahead all business and serious like. But come on! I wanted to explore! Meander around. I was in the actual 1950s, I couldn’t just run right by everything.
“How far away is Woolton? We’ve been walking for a while,” I said, trying to make light conversation, but also trying to complain about how sore my feet were.
“We still have two hours to get to the outskirts of Birkenhead and then cross the River Mersey,” he said as my eyes grew wide. “Then we can take a bus from there to Woolton, about another forty minutes after that.”
“Another river? Sheesh, we couldn’t have put the portal a little closer to John’s house?” I asked but was met with no reply.
So, we walked and walked and walked. Soon people began to pepper the streets of the town and it made my heart feel all fluttery and jittery. I loved to see the vintage suits and hats! Every single person had a hat. I didn’t know if that was a morning thing or if it were a fifties thing, but anyway I loved it!
The hazy sky faded into a light grey and small shadows appeared at the bases of trees. We still hadn’t made it to the River Mersey.
“Hey, Thorne?” I asked. “The sun is coming up.”
“It’s Dr. Thorne,” he said in short.
“Hey, Sir Dr. Thorne?” I saluted him. “The sun is coming up. Pretty sure we could get on a bus from here.”
“Best to walk to the ferry and stick to the plan.”
Ugh! I slumped so much as I walked that my arms swung and dragged by my shins. But I followed him to the dang ferry and crossed the dang ferry and waited for the dang bus and got on the dang double bus.
I rested my head on the window, pressed my forehead against the glass to get a glimpse of oldtown Liverpool. As the mid-morning sun took its place, the city was a bustle with huge old metal cars and so many skirts. And again, the hats.
The bus left the city and entered the green suburbs. Suddenly, I jumped from my seat and pressed my nose flat against the window. “Thorne! Cows! Look! There’s a whole bunch of cows just walking in the road!”
Thorne tugged roughly at my skirt and hissed at me through clenched teeth, “Get down.”
I twisted around and half the bus had a side-eye on me while the other half had their heads buried into newspapers. I quietly sat down and smoothed my skirt.
“What’s the point of traveling, if you can’t be excited and look around at stuff?” I whispered to Thorne.
“Keep your head on straight,” he warned. “None of this is new. You were born in 1939, remember?”
I huffed and flopped into my seat.
The bus turned a corner, slowing past a big tree. Two little boys in school uniforms dangled upside down on a stretching branch. Smaller trees lined each side of the narrow street, each one dotted with groups of pink blossoms.
The bus stopped at Menlove Ave. As the squeaky brakes came to a halt the entire bus jolted forward ejecting me from my seat. How can people ride this contraption? No safety harness or anything, just a scary bumpy ride with a sliding leather seat.
That was the longest journey of my life and I was eager as anything to leap off and be done with it all. But Thorne wouldn’t let me slip from his grasp so easily.
“I’ll be at a nearby hotel,” he said as I stood to leave. “I’ll send you the address tonight. Open it discreetly.”
“Okee dokee.” I gave him a thumbs up and turned toward the open bus door.
“John is scheduled to be at school until four,” Thorne said, stopping me again. “Make sure you’re ready for him when he returns.”
“Don’t worry. I got this,” I said and tried again to exit the bus, but Thorne grabbed my arm and pulled me in close.
“There’s no going back and burning a new portal, so do not ruin the first impression,” he whispered harshly in my ear.
I slipped away from Thorne and stepped off the bus, the hot exhaust tickling my ankles. A distinct mix of sweet spices wafted from the neighborhood. My stomach growled. Maybe it was the time bending portal, but I felt like I had breakfast an eternity ago.
I had to count the numbers of the houses, which I found so strange. This is how they used to do it? Just counting their way to each other’s addresses. No GPS or device or anything to help them find their way. I would get so lost every day. And that kind of made my heart pound a little harder. Was I lost already?
No. There it was. 251 Menlove Avenue. I recognized it right away. The semi-detached greyish house with the beautiful flowers in stained glass on the box porch. The place they called “Mendips”. I could feel my fingertips shaking as I approached the gate.
I let out a shuddery breath. Okay no need to get nervous yet. At least not in a sex appeal kind of way. He wouldn’t be home until four.
I opened the hitch to the waist-high front gate. The little door flew open and cracked to a stop. I scampered through and shut it behind myself, but that stupid little hitch wouldn’t clasp back down. I finally had to push the gate with one knee before I could secure it into place. Whew. Automatic doors would be sorely missed over the next one hundred days.
I was about to put into practice every part of my elaborate lie I had cooked up and that was more than a bit scary. John’s aunt, ‘Mimi’ was not only a smart woman, but she was also famously stern. Like a scary librarian, some historians say. I guess I was about to find out.
I wrapped my knuckles lightly on the door, as respectable as I possibly could sound with just a knock. It wasn’t long before the front door creaked and popped open. A small woman stepped into the box porch. Dark hair curled tightly around her sharp cheekbones.
She looked at me with such an eye. Up from the tippy top of my boisterous blonde hair down to my worn vintage loafers. She cracked opened the door of the porch, neither stepping out or inviting me in. “Yes, what is it that you want?”
I gulped so hard I could feel my Adam’s apple wobble. “I was inquiring about a room. I was told you take in lodgers.”
Her eyebrows drew together, and her mouth remained a hard line. “Yes, I do. Who are you inquiring for? Yourself?”
I held my palms out at the bottom of my muddy skirt and gave her sort of a grimaced smile. Her eyes darted back and forth. Some strong hesitation if I’ve ever seen one. I felt stupid for not foreseeing this as a problem.
“Most of my lodgers are students. They’re all moving out now for Holiday,” she said.
Yep. Yup. Exactly what I had said and exactly why I wanted to arrive in January. But did the council listen to me? No, they sure didn’t. Now this is what we get for having only a hundred days of a mission. I repressed my internal scream and took in a deep breath.
“I have an apprenticeship at the College of Art. I’m looking for a room for the summer,” I said as confidently as I could make my shaky voice sound.
Mimi squinted an eye. She opened the door a little wider. “You’re an American, aren’t you?”
“Yeah.” After Mimi threw me a stone expression, I changed my answer to a more proper sounding, “Yes.”
“A bit strange to see an American around here,” she said more to herself than to me. She gave me another suspicious eye. “I usually don’t take in…”
Her eyes flashed. I must have auto-filled her sentence wrong.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m closing my door to lodgers for the summer.”
And with that, she was about to close the door right on me.
“I’m a little desperate,” I said before she could get the door closed. “I can pay you 85 for the room. I was told you usually ask for 78.”
She stopped mid-door shut and reopened, giving me another hard once over. “Just the summer, then?”
“I’ll take 90 for the room and not a penny more,” she said with her arms crossed.
Again, I nodded. I wasn’t there to barter with her, because in truth we were prepared to offer her more than a hundred pounds for the room if it meant I would be staying a few feet away from John.
She smiled. A slight upturn of her thin lips. “Very well. Don’t come through here. Come around to the back, through the kitchen.”
All the muscles in my upper arms released as if I had been wrestling a bear that whole conversation.
Walking around the side of the house proved difficult because there was a dip in the drive where a giant puddle had formed from a previous rain. I tried to jump it, but the back of my shoe splashed right in, soaking into my stockings. Just when I had finally dried from the river.
A thin, green bike leaned next to the back door. I went through and found myself in a teeny orange kitchen. Mimi met me there, huffed at my one wet shoe, and beckoned me to follow her into the house.
I followed her down the hall and up the stairs. A large grey cat sat on the third step from the top, eyeing me just as suspiciously as Mimi and slowly swishing his tail.
“Strange for you to have asked me for a room today because only since yesterday, I’ve had a vacancy. Quite lucky.”
Right. ‘Luck’. I stepped over the cat and into the narrow hallway. Mimi stopped me in front of two doors. One was to the little box room that sat above the porch. I knew exactly who slept in that room.
“This is the room,” she said, opening the door that was adjacent to John’s.
I had to stop my jaw from dropping. Seriously? That room was the vacancy? Yeah, I guess that was quite lucky indeed.
I thanked Mimi and stepped inside.
Sitting on the edge of my bed, I stared at myself in the floor-length mirror. Even after all the preparation and training, it was so unreal. There I was at Mendips, one wall away from John Lennon’s childhood bedroom. Hearing Aunt Mimi’s cats mew softly from downstairs. Being an active part in a history that would never happen in this reality.
Why wait until next week for Emmeline to meet John when the next four chapters post TOMORROW on Patreon?