An alternate Liverpool, 1961
"In no time at all, it'll be like they never were here," one woman said to another. "Like they never were here."
Ten dreary years after the Germans went, Menlove Avenue held a street party to celebrate the American liberation of Liverpool. Strings of Union Jacks flapped fitfully in the wet breeze. Plates of fairy cake made with rationed sugar sat on the tables. Children ran and played, taking on the guise of the Nazis who had ruled these streets before they were born. Their mothers shook their heads and hoped to forget.
John remembered with the dim memories of a child. He remembered the air raids, the docks burning, the barrage balloons. He remembered goose stepping alongside a German parade as his friends laughed. When Mimi heard she'd smacked him and sent him to bed without any supper. She hadn't wanted him imitating those filthy Germans, even in fun. He didn't tell her how he'd once played the mouth organ for a platoon of German soldiers, entertaining them for a copper or two. Mak schau, they'd chanted. Mak schau. He'd liked that, even though he'd known he shouldn't.
Those were the vivid years. Now everything was drab and down-at-heel. The docks were only half alive, the city half dead. He'd done his national service, come back, and now he was looking to get out again.
John didn't linger long at the street party. It had nothing to offer him. Instead he took a bus into the city centre, staring out the window at the storefronts and the heaps of rubble, still building sites after ten years' stasis. Like they never were here. Maybe. Maybe not. He didn't remember before the war, before rationing, how was he supposed to know? How could he miss something he'd never seen? All he knew to miss were the Nazis and their bright spectacle, nothing like the khaki and swagger of the American soldiers who still walked the streets.
By the time he got off the bus, the commemoration at the Town Hall was already finished. The crowds had dispersed. Tattered pieces of bunting lay sodden on the ground. If he'd come earlier, he could have seen the Prime Minister, fat lot of good that would do him. John was tired of being told how much better it all could have been. Maybe it would be better if they were still here. At least there'd be something to look at.
Nothing was open. Nothing at all except the pubs, and all he had in his pocket was the bus fare home. So he walked and looked in the shop windows. The only place he stopped was in front of the record store, standing with hands in pockets and examining the display. Imports from America, land of opportunity. Colourful and exciting and everything that Liverpool wasn't. Everything that the grimy window of Smithson's wasn't, with its streaks and smudges and bluebottles lying dead in the dust. They wouldn't let him in the door even if he did have a few bob to spend. Too good for the like of him, or so they fancied themselves. Only people who could afford the records were the bloody American servicemen who lorded it over everyone here. How could you hope to be a musician when the bloody record store wouldn't even let you in?
He kicked the door of the shop savagely. Then he thought better of it and moved on, whistling to himself in order to emphasize his harmlessness to anyone who might be watching. You had to be careful in this city.
Somehow he scraped together the money to get a guitar on the hire-purchase. Or his Aunt Mimi did-- she had to keep him out of trouble somehow. He played at church fetes, in dance halls, even at the American base in Burtonwood. Wherever they'd have him. He found another couple of lads like himself, and they called themselves a rock'n'roll band.
When they performed sometimes he found himself looking out to the edge of the small audience, wishing for something that he didn't even understand. Looking for a man in suit and tie, someone with interest in his face and money in his pocket. It was ridiculous. Nothing like that would ever happen to John Lennon of Liverpool. Even so he dreamed about it: being discovered, going to London, making it big. Then he'd just shrug and smoke another fag. How daft could you be?
And he was right. No one ever came. There was no one to come.
"In no time at all," one woman said to another, "it'll be like they never were here."