She has never cared for sudden noises, which is why she has made an art out of them. Always confront what you fear, always. But there it is: every time there is a certain kind of ring, it comes back, the sirens, the smell of sulphur, the burning flesh. Tokyo burning.
John understands much, but this he can't. He is too young. He cannot remember the sirens, and it remains history to him. They watch an interview with Curtis Le May - kichuke Rumei, she thinks, because her mind refuses to cloak that man in English phrases - and Le May says that if the US had lost the war, he would have been prosecuted for war crimes. More people died when fire reigned on Tokyo than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together. John says "he really is that guy from Dr. Strange, isn't he?" and snorts disdainfully, and for a moment, the gulf between them is frightening. Eight years, two continents, and though he tries, he cannot understand what it is to live through fire from the sky. Curtis Le May will always be no more real than a film character to him. Nothing is real. Reality is nothing.
When the door bell rings, she does not flinch, never that, but her flesh shudders, every time.
There is a good reason why this particular bell should not ring that has nothing to do with her childhood memories. All visitors to the apartments in the Dakota are announced through the intercom from the security people downstairs. They're not let through until given permission. So no one should ring at the door who has not been announced through the intercom first. There is one exception, only one, that Yoko has allowed, that she has, in fact, ordered. If ever her daughter, with or without Tony, should appear, Kyoko is to be let through at once, without delay. She knows this is not likely to happen, but if it does, she does not want any impediment to stop her child, to change Kyoko's mind.
There is no good reason to expect Kyoko in the winter of 1975. No news from any of the investigators, none, but something in Yoko hopes nonetheless. There is Sean now. It has been a dangerous birth, which was widely reported, and maybe Tony has read it, heard it, will relent. He used to be like a willow, bent to her wishes. He used to be kind.
The door bell rings despite no announcement from security, and so that pang of fear is followed by hope, however foolish. She does not move. There is a weakness in her now. Her body has not completely returned to its old self, and she will never appear less than in control. She looks at John and tells their visitor, Bob Gruen, that he should go to the door, to find out who it could be. Bob obeys, and she can hear him use the intercom. There are noises from outside, not from the speaker, from outside the apartment, in the floor. Singing.
"Just some kids singing Christmas carols," Bob Gruen shouts, and everything in her tenses. How many children are in the Dakota? She doesn't know. She never had much interest in other people's children.
Maybe, she thinks, maybe, maybe maybe maybe, and is unable to say anything. John shouts back, tells Bob to let them in. He's in a great mood these days, full of wonder and finally willing to believe they got their miracle and all will be renewed. Maybe he is right.
The door opens, they hear the singing voices clearer now, and everything in her freezes. These aren't children's voices. Christmas carols, yes, but no children. Two adult voices, and she knows them, oh, she knows them, especially one of them, and Bob Gruen says with awe and amazement "wow", "didn't expect this", "follow me".
"We wish you a merry christmas..." and John grins widely, joy and disbelief dancing in his eyes.
"There's just one person that cheesy in the whole fucking world," he says, jumping out of the bed they've been cuddling on together, all anticipation and glee.
He doesn't mean Kyoko. It never even seems to have occurred to him Yoko could have been waiting for her.
The opposite of love is fear, not hate.
Despite everything: the racism, the misogyny, the unrelenting hostility towards her, Yoko has never hated anyone from England. Some, she even pities, though that is easier to manage from a distance and in New York than it was when their enmity surrounded her like a swamp of ignorance and poison. There are, however, some people she fears.
Confront what you fear, always.
She hasn't always feared Paul.
In fact, she has been willing to forgive and forget, to consign him with a benign shrug to the past. It was John who made it impossible. "You understand it's just you now," he said, "I've been riding the boat named Paul, and now I'm riding the boat named Yoko," and proceeded to drag his discarded boat along day after day, rant after rant, outburst after outburst. She doesn't want to imagine what he would have done if she mentioned Tony or any of the men in her past even a quarter as much. He ridicules every released record if he's not fuming about it, but he listens to them, again and again, until the maudlin, childish lyrics and the insidious melodies that have a way of coming back to you follow her in her sleep.
Ear worm. Such a descriptive phrase in English. She hasn't understood it until she caught herself humming when shopping, it's just another day, tch, tch, tch, and really, helping John compose How Do You Sleep? was just exorcism after that.
We wish you a merry christmas and a happy new year, and there he is, blonde Linda at his side, without the ridiculous mustache he was sporting the last time Yoko has seen him, but otherwise unchanged.
"We were in town and wanted to surprise you guys," Linda says, sounding a bit breathless. "And to see the new baby, of course!"
Behind her, Bob Gruen watches the four of them wide eyed. Yoko does not object to Bob Gruen. He is a good photographer, he respects her as an artist, and during the time of her and John's separation, he was exceedingly tactful towards both of them. Which is why they're still receiving him. But right now, she has to fight down the impulse to give him a good shake, together with her lingering sense of disappointment about having her hopes dashed, once again. Why didn't he at least ask her and John whether they wanted to see the McCartneys?
For the same reason why her security downstairs failed her, obviously. None of them will have to deal with John in a few hours time, when the McCartneys are gone, and he'll switch between happiness and depression. None of them will have to hear yet another half and hour of anger about why more people cover Paul's songs than his, or a rant about how the Eastmans were soulless capitalist monsters. None of them will find him sitting in a bathtub with water that is already too cold, staring into nothing.
She has a new baby now. And he has promised. He has promised to be a father. She can't go on being his mother in addition to being Sean's, and May proved she can't trust anyone else to do it properly, either.
"What a wonderful idea," Yoko says kindly, and John laughs.
"Trust you not to pass up the chance to show off your nursery rhymes," he says and envelopes Paul into a hug.
Art strenghtens you. You can rely on art, far more than you can ever rely on people. You can let go of art, in a way you can not let go of people.
Writing a poem, composing a song, arranging a concept: these things make her more herself. She can share her art. In fact, she needs to share. Always, always, the memory of her parents: her father hiding behind his desk to resist the lure of the piano his family would not allow him to play, her mother so full of anger that she was incapable of touching a brush despite the breathtaking work Yoko has been allowed to glance at now and then, every single item predating her birth.
"Children will ruin your life," her mother had said.
John calls her parents "paper parents", and it is true. They are elegant drawings on paper, remote and not to be touched. Sometimes, as a girl, she dreamed of dissolving into ink, into lines drawn by her mother long before her birth, and woke up screaming.
Children will ruin your life.
Deciding to give birth to Kyoko instead of having another abortion was supposed to silence her mother's voice in her forever. She was not her parents. She had done what they had not dared, had become an artist, and when she was ready to have a child, she did this, too.
But bodies can be betrayers. It's a strange, frightening power a child has, and she had not understood it in its full enormity until Tony took Kyoko away and it felt as if he had cut out a part of her body. It still does.
She will never forgive Tony. She will never forgive John, either, for the stupid posturing games with her former husband, and she will not forgive herself for participating in them. But she cannot say any of this, because you have to let go of the past in order to have a future, and so she cuts off her anger with a knife and makes it into another stone of the fortress of her new life.
If she can do this, John should be able to do it as well. But there he is, hugging his black haired past and nursing the old love and hate that has its treacherous vines climbing through their fortress of white renewal in the Dakota.
Vines worming through. Ear-worm.
The opposite of love is not hate. It is fear, and John has never feared Paul.
Stepping in front of people who hate you, who compare you to an insect, trying to get them to listen to you: that takes persistence and strength.
Getting pregnant surrounded by such hatred: that takes defiance and trust into the future. Yoko has done it twice while John's old world splintered around them, and both times she felt her child die inside her. Some ignorant fool at Apple mentioned her abortions and it was very difficult not to abandon her pacifism right then at there. Mis-carriage; the word implies the fault of the carrier.
English can be so cruel sometimes.
Kyoko was still there then, though. After losing Kyoko, Yoko does not get pregnant again, because she does not believe she can live through another stillbirth.
Still birth. Now that is a kind phrase, but a lying one. There is nothing still in you when your body betrays you yet again and refuses to nurture the life you want. Nothing still, nothing quiet at all, and then everything is. She would not go through it again, she decides after Kyoko is taken away, and changing her mind about this is the hardest thing she ever does.
The hardest thing John ever did was to let himself love and trust her, utterly and completely. She knows this. It went against every fear, every instinct he had, and this is why she loves him and why despite everything she will never let him go.
She used to wonder what the hardest thing was for Paul. Whether there was ever anything, because if there is one word she associates with him first and foremost, it is ease. No paper parents for Paul, or abandoning parents, as there were for John. "He never had an unloved moment in his life, the spoiled sod," John says in one of his many diatribes that were supposed to show his disdain and only end up showing her his obsession. "Dad this, and Mike that, the whole bloody McCartney clan adores him, George Martin thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread, every bird's mother wanted to adopt him, and you know what, if the world ends tomorrow I'm sure the one thing that the last man on earth will wear is a button saying 'I love Paul'!"
(There is such a button, a relic from Beatlemania. Yoko has seen it because it's among John's possessions. Despite the fact they moved from England to a series of hotels to the Dakota, it is still in John's possession.)
There is nothing hard about having children for Paul, either. No former husbands abducting daughters for Linda: her former husband gives Paul permission to adopt their daughter Heather instead, and Yoko watches Paul play with the girl even at the worst of times, in the Twickenham Studios, when grief and hostility makes the air freeze. No still births for Linda, either, only noisy ones full of life and air: baby after baby, and for God's sake, John says, now he's releasing Mary has a little lamb as a single, how can you possibly comment on this, how low can you sink, recording lullabies for babies, and there is not the flicker of a doubt in Yoko that these babies will never, ever feel unwanted or wonder whether they've ruined their parents' lives.
She used to wonder whether there was anything hard for Paul to do at all. Until she saw him standing in her kitchen, more than a year ago, until she sees him in her living room now. And then she knows.
"I don't know how you did it," John says to Paul as they're all sitting on the floor, warm white carpet not being like a futon at all, "you cheeky get. You're the only one who ever managed to get in here without anyone being able to do anything about it. Elton can't get away with it. Bowie couldn't. Or Mick - and you bet if it was me coming to see you, I'd be stopped. So spill. What's the bribe rate these days?"
"Oh, I'm cheap," Paul says. "Really cheap. Concert tickets. For my own concerts. We'll do Madison Garden next year, on the American Tour. Looks like your people downstairs really dig my music."
"Professional damage from standing in an elevator the whole day," John shoots back, quick as lightning, and Yoko can remember a time when barbs would have become stings, but not today, it seems; Paul smiles. If she weren't watching Linda as well, she wouldn't have noticed the one sign that he isn't just carelessly amused. As it is, it doesn't escape her that Paul has been holding his wife's hand this entire time and that his fingers briefly clinched right now, even as he's all banter and ease.
"The sound I make is muzak to your ears, you mean?"
She's surprised that he's capable of this, directly quoting How Do You Sleep? to John, and so is John. Maybe it's because they're alone now; Bob Gruen wisely made up for his earlier presumption by deleting himself and leaving.
"Maybe," John says slowly. "No. I - don't think that's what I meant."
"How is your father?" Yoko asks Linda, because if there are allusions, they should be even. If Paul had not insisted on Lee Eastman as his choice for new manager, negotations would have been possible and the Beatles would not have ended the way they did. She is prepared to admit that Allen Klein was not who she thought he would be, but nobody in the world would have agreed to Paul's father-in-law; there was no possible way the Eastmans could have been even handed and objective towards John. Or the other Beatles, but Yoko is prepared to admit it wasn't concern for George or Ringo that caused her to object to Lee Eastman.
"Busy with his grandchildren," Linda replies lightly. Yoko can never make up her mind whether Linda is a brainwashed tool of the patriarchy or a surprisingly tough fellow survivor of it. Linda has experienced not quite, but nearly as much hatred as Yoko did during those ghastly two years; Yoko remembers the letters "American cunt go home" written on the walls of Paul's house one time they were invited to dinner there, dinner prepared by a highly pregnant Linda who somehow managed to shoot a few photos during it as well that were not bad, not bad at all when they got to see the results.
"Yes, I noticed you didn't bring the hell spawn along," John said. "Too bad. Of course, we wouldn't want them to feel inferior when visiting the most perfect baby ever, but you could have used the backup during the Christmas carol. Also Yoko hasn't met them, other than Heather, and fair is fair; she should."
It's over in a heartbeat, but Paul's eyes inadvertendly meet hers, and that's when John realises. His face hardens.
"When were you here before?"
"He's in Los Angeles," Yoko says to Paul in 1974. The only light in the kitchen comes from her fridge, because it has grown dark very quickly, the fridge is half open, and she can't be bothered to close it. She should. But it's hard enough to keep still, to do what she forces herself to. If she moves away to the fridge to close it, if she takes her eyes from Paul, she'll never be able to go through with it.
"He's in Los Angeles with May Pang, our assistant. Who was supposed to take care of him. And do you know what she did last night? She called me because he was busy destroying the hotel room they were in when he wasn't tearing off her necklace and trampling on it. I told her not to let him drink too much, but it seems she's not strong enough to prevent it. He even gets kicked out of night clubs by now. John Lennon."
Paul looks at her, spare light from the fridge letting the ridiculous mustache look like another shadow on a face full of them. He doesn't say anything. In the silence, she can hear the voices of his children and Linda's voice, preventing them from touching the piano in the living room, keeping them busy.
All she says is true. But truth is not always easy to share, especially if the purpose of sharing it is such a humiliating one.
"Do you want him back?" he asks at last.
What she wants is more complicated than that. She wants John in a way that means she will not have to send him away again. And it had been necessary. But "wanting him back" would do.
"He would have to do it all again," she says. "Court me. Here in New York, not in Los Angeles. And grow up, at last."
"And why should I help you?" Paul asks. Nothing of affable Macca in him now; this is the man who looked at her when she made her first suggestion during the White Album sessions and said "did someone speak?"
"Because," she says, and returns his gaze as cold and precise, "one of us has to take him back, or he'll be a drunken drugged out wreck within two years, and dead in four. And you won't do it."
He leans forward over the kitchen table, capturing her outstretched hands with his. There is no gentleness in the gesture.
That is the question. That, in addition to all the humiliation of having to ask him of all the people, is why this is so difficult for her. She could be wrong. How well does she know Paul, really? Not that well at all. Since the first time John brought her to the studios, she has never talked to Paul alone, not once, and after the end of the group, she has only seen him two or three times, each time in business negotiations.
But John knows him, and she still remembers what John told Allen Klein when Klein suggested Paul might get rid of Linda and the Eastmans when falling for the next "broad with big tits", as Klein put it.
"You won't give up your family," she says. "Not even for John." Then she adds her own conclusion: "And you would have to, if you took him back."
Because, and Yoko found this out the hard way, if you love John Lennon, then you have to love him more than everything and everyone else. Or else he won't believe you, and you will lose him again.
Now it is she who leans forward.
"Am I wrong?" she asks.
"Oh, you know," Paul says vaguely in December 1975. "Passing through."
"Right," John states flatly. "Should have known all that marital advice in Los Angeles didn't come without inspiration."
He looks at her, and Yoko sees both anger and admiration in his eyes. Of course, he really should have known. Should have known who knows him best, and was prepared to accept him nonetheless. And he does know; this is why he returned. There are only occasional moments when he forgets.
"Inspiration is just the start, Johnny," Paul says, and while she can't ever recall him using this diminutive before, it carries the sadness and tenderness of old use with it. He's still holding Linda's hand. His knuckles are white. "It's what you make of it that counts. So can we see the miracle child now?"
Confront your fear.
Yoko watches him, sees the circle of four they make, opposites in every way. But if Paul is what she is not and she is what he is not, they are also each other. Doppelgangers. That is why they can hardly bear each other. The worst thing, the only thing you truly fear is yourself.
"What if I don't want you to hold my child?" John asks, and she can hear Linda catch her breath, because there it is, that echo of Twickenham: the worst of times. "What if I think you took enough of mine already?"
She could let it end here. After all, she has always thought that a clean cauterisation of a wound is preferable to a festering infection, and sometimes you really have to be cruel to be kind. But she has won, and she can be generous in victory.
"Then he won't hold Sean," Yoko says mildly. "He'll just watch. Best not to wake the baby up. The nanny needs a rest, and you don't want to be up all night, either, do you, John?" She smiles at Paul. "John has learned from the past," she continues, "and he's determined not to repeat his mistakes. Sean will have a devoted father. Just like your children."
Maybe he'll think she's taunting him, but she's not. Yoko means what she says. Every child growing up without love would. "They're lucky," she adds.
He made a choice in her kitchen that night, he makes a choice now, and it's the hardest thing he ever did; if she has never known anything else about him, Yoko knows this. She can respect it.
"Just watching it is," Paul murmurs.
Love is a double edged sword: it weakens, it cuts in your own flesh, just as much as it is a weapon to defend.
She knows all about cuts. She has made them her first great work of art, after all.
Nonetheless: she does not care for them, necessary as they are. Sometimes she wishes she could go back to Japan to find that girl who looked up to the sky and did not know yet fire would and could reign down from it, the girl who saw nothing but blue infinity and hope, but that girl is several decades and continents away from her, more taken away than even her daughter was. She looks at her son, sleeping in his cradle, and he is and is not a part of her and his father. He is something new.
"It still scares the hell out of me," John whispers, watching Sean. He doesn't sound angry anymore. Just tired, and amazed. It's not clear whether he's speaking to her, Paul or all of them. "Knowing I could fuck it up again. He is a miracle, isn't he?"
Paul doesn't say anything; he just nods. They slowly leave the room again, and Linda says that it was time for them to pick up their own children now before Heather drove her grandfather crazy by insisting on playing her music on the stereo.
"Don't tell me your father objects to Paul's profitable tunes," John says in mock shock and in an exaggeratedly Victorian voice. "It would completely ruin my bad opinion of him."
"Actually, Heather is into your music, big time" Paul replies. "What can I say? She's 13. Ideal for nobody-understands-me albums."
The corners of John's mouth quirk until they widen to genuine grin, and Yoko knows this won't be one of the bad nights after all. There will be no diatribes after the McCartneys have left, and no long stares into nothingness. There might even be peace. If not the one they had before Paul and Linda arrived, then a new one that would hold for a while. She listens to them trading banter, and if it is a lie of harmlessness, it is comforting one. They have almost reached the floor when John suddenly turns and grabs Paul by the arms.
"You're a two faced bastard, and I could have made a really good rock star corpse in Los Angeles," he says hoarsely.
"Not you," Paul returns, and they look at each other over John's shoulder, she and he. "You're crazy if you think we'd ever let you go."