Wow…I’m flying…flying mum…just let me take your hand. Flying, John, hold my hand, love, before you bang into the boom. Flying mum, so slowly…I’m reaching out. Where is your hand? I’m flyyyying….
It was a slow business moving Paul out of the emergency area, but Brian was glad to have him relocated to a place with more privacy and less access. He’d been contemplating asking for such a move only to find himself taken aside by a well-dressed, very soft-spoken gentleman who had introduced himself very vaguely and then explained a few things. Namely, that by high order – very high – Macca was to be moved to rooms reserved for members of the royal household. “It is secure and there will be room for all of you to be comfortable while you are waiting. Also, some particularly gifted medical people, who are not usually on staff here, will soon be in attendance. The gravity of this situation is understood.”
And now he watched as Paul, covered to his nose in blankets, shielded by a makeshift canopy and surrounded by both medical personnel and a few serious looking men in suits, was being wheeled into a restricted area.
At first there had been some question as to whether the bassist was strong enough even to endure such a careful and slow transfer. “He is in very grave condition,” Dr. Richmond had cautioned. “His blood pressure is dangerously low, his heartbeat is slow, his breathing is--”
But moved he had been, and Brian was grateful beyond words for it, thinking that if – God forbid! – Paul should die, at least the group wouldn’t have to worry about seeing a “death photo” of him leaked to tabloids. The lad would be spared that final indignity, at least.
The brief press conference had completely shattered Eppy, who no longer felt confident about anything. He realized now that hour-by-hour he had been losing the tight hold he’d tried to keep on this situation. The clumsy handling of the Last Rites question – in hindsight he knew he should have outright denied it and called it “reckless rumor-mongering” – had confirmed the seriousness of Paul’s condition, and now there was a crowd gathering around the hospital, growing by the minute. Teenagers, of course, but also men and women. It felt like all of London was descending, encircling the building as though keeping a death watch while making things more difficult for emergency vehicles, staffers and all the usual people who just wanted to visit a sick relative – or deliver a baby – and now had to first work their way through a mob crying over here, praying over there, and singing out Beatles songs, one after another.
Oh, I believe in yesterday…
It was getting all inside Brian. He was barely keeping it together. Thousands of voices were outside, singing the words, while inside their author was hanging on to life by a thread, and who knew if that young lad would ever have a tomorrow, and it was all so awful. But at least they were all around Paul, now, George, Ritchie, himself, and – finally – John.
Lennon had been delivered to the rooms only minutes earlier by the matron who had found him in a corner of the emergency sector, grasping a doorframe, trembling and staring at the empty space where Paul had been – his eyes wide, his body too terrified to permit the question burning in his throat and tearing at his heart.
“There he is, love,” the matron had said to John as he’d stumbled in blindly and gone directly to Paul’s side, his body still shaking from the jolt of fear that had completely owned him. “All right and tight…” she added, as though she actually believed it.
John was immediately in the way of a young-looking nurse who was gently bathing Paul’s face in an attempt to help lower his fever.
He didn’t care if he was in the way, was too shaken to care. As the nurse carefully ran a sponge down one of his partner’s arms, John went to the other, laying his trembling hand over Paul’s hot, lifeless one, and giving it the barest squeeze as he gulped hugely and let his tears flow. “Thought I’d lost you, Jamie,” he whispered, close to Macca’s ear. “Stick with me, eh, doll? We’re all here, now. We’re together.”
The nurse reached behind Paul to lower his gown and John helped her from his side, carefully folding the fabric down and out of the way, until Paul’s full chest and abdomen were exposed. He saw the nurse blink and step back for a moment, a low exclamation escaping from her as the discolored bruises and bites came into view. “Sorry,” she whispered to John, knowing she’d betrayed her surprise.
“It’s alright,” he nodded at her consolingly. "It is shocking." He watched, still holding his partner’s hand, as she ran the sponge over Paul’s shoulder then moved to his chest and below. When she had rewet the thing and wrung it out, John stayed her hand. “C-can I do it,” he begged her. “I’ll do this side, okay? Please?”
He looked so woebegone it was impossible to refuse him. Casting a glance about the room to be sure the matron was gone, the girl handed the sponge off to John with a sympathetic look.
“Thank you, sister.” His tone was touchingly sincere as he took it and began copying her actions, running the sponge over Paul’s shoulders and down his arm, then to his chest. “Paulie, I’m giving you a sponge bath,” he said in a more normal voice, coughing a bit when it broke. “Who’d have thunk it, eh, love? ‘Big bad Lennon’ playin’ nursemaid to the ‘sweet-natured McCartney’. Aye, so sweet. Imagine what would happen to our image, love, if they ever figured out you’re the tough nut-and-chocolate outside and I’m the marshmallow inside…whole world-views would shatter, wouldn’t they?”
He paused his motion for a moment, gazing at Paul's face with naked pain and longing, then shaking his head sadly and continuing with a sigh. “Cyn’s on her way here,” he continued, hoping to say something, anything, that might draw a response from the battered figure before him. Macca was so hot the sponge needed another rewetting. “Just got off the phone with her, and also with Mimi, who said that if you don’t get better instantly it will only prove that you’re still as impertinent as you ever were.”
The nurse was gently patting down the area she’d washed, laying the towel across her half of Paul, to prevent a chill. Though trying not to eavesdrop, she observed John’s careful ministrations with a professional eye and was astonished by the gentle way he was touching his partner -- moving so carefully, and all while watching Paul’s face for any sort of reaction. No one has ever looked at me with that much tenderness, she thought to herself, surprised to even find that word, ‘tenderness’, in her own thinking. It was not a word she commonly used, but she knew it was the right word for what she was seeing, and her throat tightened, her eyes watered at the knowing of it.
It was a privileged and moving thing, she thought, to witness something as private and intimate as this. It made her feel strangely protective of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. She had always been a fan, of course. But somehow it felt like now the partners were hers to defend against the careless world.
“She’s still tough as nails, is Mimi, Paul.” John was saying. “But she wants you to know she loves you. Did you hear what I said, Macca? ‘Mimi loves Paul McCartney’. She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah…’” He sang it softly and then winked at the nurse, marveling at his own composure. “As do we all, aye, Sister? You love him, too, right?”
The girl betrayed herself, nodding and letting loose with a small chuckle, utterly disarmed by the charisma of John Lennon when he was fully in control of himself.
“Thank you for letting me help you,” he said to her as he finished up, giving her the sponge and accepting a towel. “It’s – it was just what I needed. Nearly passed out when I didn’t find him where I expected to, you know. I thought…” He swallowed noisily. “Thought the worst. Felt like I was shutting down. Being able to do this for him…”
He couldn’t speak further, but the girl saw his eyes, round and wet, and she nodded in complete understanding.
“Your welcome,” she said so softly only John could hear, as they raised Paul’s gown over his shoulders again and then covered him with a blanket. “You can help me again tomorrow, if you like.”
“Tomorrow…” Lennon bit his lip. “Tell me it’s a promise that we’ll do this again tomorrow,” he pled in a low voice. “That means tomorrow will actually come. For me and for Paul.”
The nurse nodded as she gathered her things together. “It’s a promise. You can help me again, tomorrow.”
When he was sure she had gone, John leaned down, his forehead touching Paul’s. “Did you hear that, Macca? You get to be hand-bathed by Johnny again tomorrow, so you need to stick around for the show, aye, babe? And you know, Jane’s coming. Cyn’s bringing her. We two redheads can fight over who gets to wipe your brow.”
He kissed the closed eyes, very softly, not caring if George or Ringo or Brian saw. “Doesn’t that sound like a show you won’t want to miss? Lennon and Lady Jane squaring off to determine which one can give a bath to The McCartney. She’s only a wee thing, though. I’ll have her on a TKO, love, if she tries to touch that sponge. We’ll need you awake to count it off. And your dad, don’t forget. Old Jim is on his way. If you wake up you can watch the bloodbath when he kicks my ass…”
“John stop.” He felt Ringo at his elbow. “Jim is not going to blame any of this on you. You did nothing wrong.”
“I left him alone,” John told him, head still on Paul’s. “And if Jim ever believed one good thing about me, it was that I’d never leave Paulie alone, put him in a position where he'd get hurt…”
“John,” George’s frown was deep, as was his voice. “Leave off with that nonsense. You could have gone for a pee and they’ve had taken him, you know? Look, they’ve put tea stuff in the next room and it seems like you could stand a cup. Go get one and Ritchie and I will stay with him.”
John raised his head, noticing for the first time that this new room had, quite luxuriously, its own waiting-place – a connecting room with a full-glass wall, comfortable chairs, a large sofa and a tea service set out, including small cakes.
“Tea,” he sighed, suddenly feeling ravenous. “Wouldn’t you like to wake up and have some tea with us, love,” he asked Paul, looking at him for a moment as though he really expected an answer. He kissed Paul’s forehead softly before leaving. “You two will keep talking to him, aye?”
“Of course,” Ringo frowned at him. “What else are we going to do?”
John could hear the drummer begin his spiel right away. “Because this Dingle lad has a few things to say to you, Mr. James Paul McCartney, so you lend me an ear, then, yeah? You should see the birds outside, thousands of ‘em, all yours for the pickin’ as soon as you open your eyes.”
“Aye,” George added, “Got all of London outside singin’ yer bleedin’ songs, dontcha, you attention hog.”
Tea…I would love tea…Johnny, Johnny, Johnny bring me tea, Johnny whoops, Johnny, flirtin’ with the girl… I felt that, love… kissed me…like you mean it…that’s a song title, that is… if I had my notebook…Cyn’s comin’…Mum, you hear that? Bringin’ Janey, my Janey, Janey, never feels the pain-y and I love her… she could fetch my notebook… God Save the Queen of Hearts she made some tarts…I’m so tired…so tired, Mum… Kiss me like you mean it, Sister, and I’d really love a cuppa… Da could bring it… maybe Da can bring a cuppa… so tired, Ritchie…tired, Geo…
“I’m so glad Cynthia is bringing Jane,” Brian said to John as they both fixed their cups.
“Didn’t know if you’d called her,” John began.
“I hadn’t. I was just going to when they pulled me aside to talk about moving Paul, and then… It just…fell out of my head.”
“Aye, I get that. Jane does live more or less on our peripheries, doesn’t she,” John nodded. “Sometimes I think she’s the farthest thing on Paul’s radar, too. But I’m certain he’d want her here,” he added quickly. “I didn’t explain anything to Cyn, so we’ll get to tell it all to both of them at once, then.”
“One and done,” Brian mused. “If only everything were that neat. Speaking of neat… let me tell you why we’re in this room.”
“Christ. Word’s gotten out,” John Dawson muttered as he began to encounter the crowds well before he had reached the hospital grounds. He slowed down, mindful of emotional pedestrians all too willing to fling themselves over any car that seemed interesting. “You might want to bring your hat low on you, sir. Don’t need to be spotted.”
Jim McCartney was staring straight ahead, seeing nothing before him. Sparing him a glance, Dawson realized the older man hadn’t heard a word, wasn’t seeing the crowd at all, because if his body was present, his mind was in some other place and time. Good, Lord, Dawson thought. He’s aged twenty years since he came off that plane.
“You’re telling me my boy was drugged and set upon by these monsters,” he had said earlier in the barest whisper, “and there was no one near him, no one to help? And now he is dying…that my son has been…this badly… assaulted…raped? Enough to kill him?” His hands had been shaking so uncontrollably that he’d broken a cigarette while putting it in his mouth, and had not tried for another.
He’d not spoken another word since those awful few.
It took some minutes before they finally reached a bobby directing traffic. Quickly explaining his business and who he was transporting, Dawson was directed to the emergency entrance, which was being kept as clear as possible. As they emerged from the car, a younger man in a dark suit approached. Dawson recognized him as the same fellow he’d passed off the packet of photos to earlier in the day. “He’s been moved, and let’s get the father up there quickly, because it seems he won’t last.” The detective nodded, taking a dazed-looking Jim McCartney by the elbow, and following.
“So, you’re here, now?” He asked discretely.
“Singular attention is being paid.” Came the answer.
“And we’re very thankful for that,” Dawson nodded. “We’ll talk in a bit. I may have spotted something.”
The suit gave a barely perceptible nod. “I’ll be nearby.”
He walked them quickly through the hallway to the secure area, depositing them with a subdued knock at the door and then disappearing.
Before Dawson had a chance to buck up the elder McCartney, a new sister, who had just finished fussing with Paul’s IV lines and reassuring John and George about what looked like little bubbles within it, opened the door.
John instantly found George’s wrist and grabbed on to it with a death grip. Both young men stared at McCartney, having no idea what to expect, but anticipating heat.
Instead, they both ended up rushing to help the man, whose knees seemed to have given out the instant he saw the bed -- so many tubes and wires. With Dawson beside them, and Brian and Ritchie rushing in from the other room, Jim McCartney was helped over to Paul with his son’s oldest friend on one side, and his dearest friend on the other.
In truth, the man had no awareness of them. His whole attention, his whole heart and mind, were focused on the sight before him.
His son, his beautiful boy (“Who’s the prettiest lad in Liverpool, then?” he could hear Mary’s voice asking it of their lovely baby), face bruised, both arms hooked up to wires feeding him blood and medicine meant to keep him alive.
His Paul, lying there, so pale. As still as death.
His hat fell from his grasp as his hand went over his mouth, meant to hold back the wordless keen that was rising from his depths. My boy…my Paul…
Ringo had brought a chair, but the older man did not sit. Still supported by the band members, he reached over, one hand leaning on the mattress, and stroked Paul’s face, skimming the purple near his eye with the back of his hand, letting his fingers trace the swollen lips. The wounded sound he’d been trying to bury inside him began to rise, until he betrayed himself with a quiet but real sob. “Oh, Mary,” he gasped. “Look at our boy. What they’ve done to our boy.”
George felt like he was losing it. He’d always thought of himself as a fairly strong chap, but he’d known Jim McCartney since he was eleven years old, and he’d never seen the man looking anything but strong and optimistic, even if he was being serious over something. Seeing him like this – suddenly old, withered in grief, and nearly defeated -- it was more terrifying than any enraged rant they might have expected from him. Looking over Jim’s head, he could see John watching Paul’s father with wide eyes. He too looked ready to bolt -- barely breathing as he watched the scene before him.
“Paul…Christ Almighty…” Jim uttered, leaning over shakily on arthritic hips to speak into Paul’s ear. “Son…Daddy’s here…your Pa is here.”
From a corner of the room there came another sound, a kind of strained whoop as Brian, of all people, lost his composure, bawling in ever-louder gasps. It was the sound of a man who was not used to crying and had no idea how to let himself do it – a terrible, heart-wrenching mixture of pain and abject fear. Every man there recognized it, because they all felt it rising within themselves, too.
Ringo went to him, putting a hand to his back and murmuring something low as he led their manager into the other room, making sure to close the door against Eppy’s noisy breakdown.
Jim McCartney never heard him. Every bit of his energy was directed toward the figure on the bed. “Oh, Paul…” he repeated, still stroking his face. He brought his cheek to his son’s forehead and grimaced at the heat. “It’s no good, son, this fever,” he whispered, “no good. But we’ve been here before, aye? You beat it back when you were little. Now you’re a grown man, you can do it again.”
Before he began to babble from sheer panic, the older man took a moment to find something, someone, to ground his thoughts on. John Dawson was the other side of the bed, and caught his eye. “He had a rheumatic fever when he was a boy, didn’t he?” Jim explained. “We nearly lost him, then. Took two weeks but he fought through it.”
Standing at attention like the eagle-eyed ex-copper that he was, Dawson nodded reassuringly. “A strong lad,” he agreed. “I’m sure he’ll perk up, now you’re here.”
McCartney kissed his son’s forehead. “Aye, you’ll have to do battle again, my dear boy. But I am with you, now. Daddy’s here.” He sniffed, shaking off George’s support to find his handkerchief. “And your mates are with you. And you must be very strong for us, lad – braw as you have it in you to be – and come back to us, now. He glanced at each of the young men beside him. “Isn’t that right, boys? Tell him.”
John, feeling as though he were in a dream, swallowed back a throat full of tears. “Listen to Jim, Paul. You can’t leave us now your Da’s here, yeah?”
“Aye,” George chimed in. “And Patti and I need our Best Man, don’t we?”
Finally, too exhausted to continue to stand, Jim lowered himself into the chair with a resigned sigh. He looked up at the three men still with him, and the nurse standing nearly hidden in the corner, as he unbuttoned his coat, prepared to settle in for a long haul. “Would you give me a little time alone with him, please,” he asked, demonstrating exactly where Paul’s impeccable manners came from. The three men nodded, quickly joining Brian and Ritchie.
When the nurse didn’t move, he looked at her pointedly, one eyebrow raised.
“I can’t leave, sir. One of us must always be here with him.”
“A few minutes, please --” he began.
“It’s my job if I’m caught,” she insisted, “I’d be sacked. Although,” she offered, after a beat. “I suppose if I’m just on the other side of the window, there…that might be alright.”
With a slip of white, she too was in the suddenly crowded waiting room, and Jim had to content himself with many pairs of eyes watching as he took his son’s hand into his own, and kissed it, and then gave himself over to silent, unfamiliar tears.
Daddy…daddy… I’m dyin’… I’m dyin’ for a cuppa, you know… Mum, Da’s here. Da’s here and he’s here, and I might be queer and he can’t know it. Daddy… Was that Brian cryin’… It’s another song, Brian’s cryin’ cause baby is dyin’… Johnny calls me baby...Johnny knows I'm Jamie, and Da’s here, Mum, he’s here and we’re all so near… It’s another song… Johnny would love it… In death we are in life… Mum? … Mummy? And in life we are in death, aye… John? Da’s here, Mum… Mum?
It was a stultifying thing, John thought, to wait in hospital with no idea how long one will be there, what to expect within the next hour, and the hour after that. The band, Brian, Dawson, they’d all taken turns going back and forth to sit at Paul’s bedside, directly across from Jim who – beyond saying ‘thank you’ when handed a cup of tea – was keeping his own council, alternately staring at Paul as though literally willing him to get better and open his eyes, or holding his head in his hand. Not being a religious man, if he was praying, it was not obvious.
The boys had risen when Jane and Cynthia showed up, John hugging first his wife and then Paul’s girlfriend with a similar clinginess. He hadn’t realized how badly he needed to hold someone, and Cyn’s embrace seemed to sow needed strength into him. All of my women are strong women, he thought to himself. And thank God for that, because I a weak, weak man.
Jim, too, had shakily begun to stand but Jane immediately went to him, patting his shoulders and encouraging him to sit, even as her eyes were consumed by Paul’s still form, before her.
“Paul,” she gasped before bringing both hands up to her mouth and then breathing deeply through them, as though to stop herself from saying anything more, or to enforce some self-control. Like Jim before her, she stroked Paul’s face with her fingertips, wincing at his heat. “He’s a fever,” she said to the room. “How does a cracked head bring a fever? And where are the bandages?” She turned to Brian and John, her blue eyes bright with growing anger. “You didn’t even call me,” she said. “And now, what? Are you lying to everyone? Tell me what is happening.”
“Not here, Jane,” Brian said, interrupting her as she was about to light into him. He motioned the nurse with his head, and also made a slight gesture toward Paul’s father. “You’re perfectly right to be angry but I think you’ll understand once we explain. But not here,” he repeated. He took her hand. Jane snatched it away, folding her arms before her in a very Paul-like gesture. “The both of you had better give me some answers, and quickly.”
Brian again motioned his head toward the waiting room. “The both of you come into the next room, and we’ll explain all of it. In detail. Come, now.”
John and Cynthia moved to the other room, Jane following Brian, reluctantly, after casting another look at Paul. Ringo and George came out, preferring Jim’s silence over being forced to hear the whole ugly tale again. “Coming with?” They asked Dawson.
“I need him here,” Brian answered.
It was a long, long session with the girls. George and Ringo sat with their backs to the window, preferring sound over sight, but soon enough wishing the other room had been sound-proofed.
“No!” They heard the word repeated emphatically over and over by both women, as they struggled with what they were being told. Cynthia’s tone was wet and unbelieving, and often muffled. Likely she had buried herself in John’s chest as she cried. Jane’s voice, however was both tearful and furious. “No! You are not telling me this!” It was an unexpectedly huge bellow from such a small girl. But then, she was trained to project her voice, and she wasn’t holding back.
“Oh, God,” came a moan. That was Cynthia.
“Fuckers!” That was Jane. “And where were you,” came the furious question. That sounded like Jane, too.
“Poor John,” Geo murmured to Ritchie, who nodded. John’s low-voiced response was unintelligible but the sound of a hand smaking his face – flesh on flesh contact and wholly unrestrained – came through loud and clear. So did the second one, a few minutes later.
“Is she gonna beat him to a pulp,” George wondered.
“Unless that one was Cyn,” Ritchie answered. The younger man considered a moment and then nodded in agreement. “Cyn might’ve hit him, too. And he’ll let them, you know. He’ll let ‘em both beat him bloody if they want to. He’s eating himself alive with guilt and thinks he’s got it comin’, when he’s none to blame for any of it.”
“Aye, but that’s John, though. And especially about Paul?” George sighed, shaking his head. “Sometimes I think Paul’s his whole word, even beyond Cyn and the boy.”
“I know,” Ringo was leaning forward, elbows on his knees as he nodded at his best mate. “I’m worried he’ll fall apart, hurt himself, if Paulie…”
George met his eyes. “I know, I know. And me, too. He’s been with me almost all my life. I might fall apart too, Ritchie, I know it. And so maybe will the whole fuckin’ world if that crowd out there is any indicator. Can you imagine it? They’ll be fuckin’ suicides.”
They’d been talking very quietly and intently to each other, their voices barely raising above a whisper. Neither of the young men, engrossed in their shared thoughts – thoughts they’d had no chance to express otherwise -- knew how attentively they were being watched, and heard, by Jim McCartney, whose face was becoming harder and more stone-like by the minute.
They were interrupted by a whirlwind as Jane Asher pulled open the door and rushed back in, her flaming hair making her seem like a ball of fire launched Paul’s way. She all but threw herself upon her unmoving lover. “Paulie, please, darling. Please…”
Her words were incoherent – she seemed a begger who wanted something but couldn’t actually say what. But her tears were real, and flowing down her alabaster face in a torrent. “Darling... please…”
Janey… Janey… come sit here on my lap… so pretty…
“Miss, you cannot do that,” the nurse was on her instantly, wrestling her away from Paul. “Please, Miss,” the sister was grunting with the effort. “He’s in very delicate condition, and you’ll ruin the tubes…”
Two strong hands managed to grasp her by the shoulders. “Jane, Jane, love. Come away…” It was Jim McCartney, who adored the tiny redhead. He had warm hands and a soothing voice and – like his son – was using them to take control where he could. “Come away, little girl. You’re much too strong for him, right now…”
“He’s so hot,” Jane cried as the older man enfolded in his arms. “Jim, he’s much too hot!”
“Aye, love. He is, you’re perfectly right, and you’re also right to be angry.” He let the young woman cry into his chest for a good long while, until she had settled into long shuddering breathes. “Come, let’s walk, you and I,” he said gently, “just in the hallway, here. I’m better walking than standing still like this, and I do need to stretch my legs. You’ll help me, yeah?”
Still stuttering as she breathed, Jane nodded, taking Jim’s arm. “You’ll stay with him,” he turned and said to George. It was not a question.
“We’ll be here, Jim.”
“Aye, then, come on Little Red -- that’s what he calls you, yes? Let’s have a turn.”
The door closed behind them and John Lennon, who’d been watching in the doorway with a sniffling Cyn still attached to his side, let out a huge sigh. “Fucking masterful, that was.”
John Dawson came up behind him, placing one large hand on his shoulder. “Truly, it was,” he agreed, sounding ever so slightly amused.
When the two returned a quarter-hour later they were followed in by two nurses bearing trays and towels and another bringing fresh tea, which even Jane seemed eager for, readily accepting a cup from Cynthia, even as she avoided John.
Jim McCartney, though, was following the nurses, and John followed him. The women had neatly set out their instruments, including a rather large syringe that looked more like a turkey baster than any proper sort of needle.
“What’s this, then? What are you doing to my son?”
“I’m sorry sirs, you’ll have to leave us for a few minutes.” One of the nurses was at the window, drawing a drape across it.
“But what are you doing,” Jim repeated.
“Sir --” the more senior of the women seemed like she was about to lose patience with the man.
“This is Paul’s father,” John piped up. “He deserves to know, and for that matter, so do I. I’m his partner, and I don’t intend to take my eyes off him, so you might as well tell us what are you doing.” He led an exhausted looking Jim to a chair near the now-hidden window, and helped him to sit. “As you see, his Da’s not going anywhere, either.”
The woman glared at him. John glared back.
“This is highly unusual,” she said through her teeth as her spine stiffened. “I could have you removed.”
“Please,” John said more softly, his vulnerability showing itself. “Just, tell us.”
Making it clear that she was giving more information than she thought either man deserved, the nurse nevertheless answered as the other began to fold the blanket up from Paul’s feet, to the top of his thighs.
“It’s time for his topical antibiotic,” she said. “Dr. Richmond prescribed it every four hours.”
“Yes, I remember,” John interrupted, glad to give evidence that he’d already been privy to some information. “He said this plus some kind of herbal compound, to soothe him.”
“That’s right,” the woman relaxed a little. “This is how we apply all of it as well as we can, directly to his wounds, his infection, without disturbing the abscess.”
“Will it hurt him,” Jim spoke up with concern. “I don’t want him hurting.”
“It will not hurt him,” she sounded certain.
“Nae, the – the medicine might not hurt him,” John said, “but he’s…he’s badly injured, you know. Moving his legs about – if you do it wrong – it might hurt him.”
“I assure you, Mr. Lennon,” the younger nurse said, “we are as gentle as we can be.”
“It might not be enough, though” John’s worry made his voice sound tight. “Maybe I can help. I could…hold him for you.”
He felt Jim’s hand on his own. “Let it be, lad.”
“But… if they move him wrong…”
“Shesh, John,” Jim counselled in a soft voice that nevertheless carried. “I’m sure these sisters will be as kind and careful with our Paul as his own mother was with all of her patients. She was a sister, too, as you know.”
At his words, both nurses immediately softened in their looks, glancing at each other in unspoken communication. “You may stay,” the older women decided, “but you must be quiet as mice, and not interrupt us in any way.”
“We’ll be good.” John promised.
Jim McCartney, sending a small but cherubic smile of thanks in their direction agreed. “Indeed,” he assured them. “We will be very good. Thank you.”
For the first time in all the years he’d known him, John looked at Paul’s father with a sincere and unbegrudged respect. So much of what he loved about Paul, he suddenly realized, was rooted in what his partner had learned from this man. His delicate touch, his manners, his ability to deploy charm like a weapon in order to get his way, his ready compassion – it had lived in Jim before it ever could live in Paul. “Masterful,” he thought once again, suddenly wishing he had taken the time to know Jim McCartney better, maybe even know him as a father.
It was not an easy procedure to watch, even from a distance and with both nurses deliberately shielding as much as they could from the men’s view. Two of the strangely oversized plastic syringes had been prepared. One, John assumed, with the antibiotic, and the other with the herbal balm, which looked thick and creamy. Very soothing, indeed.
But he was wincing as they moved Paul’s legs, setting them wide apart, and raising them at the knees. He remembered all the times he’d seen his lover similarly posed, but never looking so terribly vulnerable, and he found himself nearly unable to watch. “Don’t hurt him.” He hadn’t realized he’d spoken the words aloud, on a flinching intake of breath.
“Steady on, son,” Jim said, giving his knee a squeeze. “They’ll be done quickly.”
He was correct. After seeing to details – lubrication and such – the sisters managed one application within mere minutes of the other, tending to their job with great attention and professionalism yet glancing frequently at Paul’s face, hoping to read any sign of discomfort, there. Like sisters. Like real caregivers. Like the sort of women Paul had said his mother was.
Still, when they lowered Paul’s legs, and straightened them and brought them together, John could swear he saw Paul wince. Just a twinge, but he knew Macca’s face, his every expression so well…and he’d seen that same grimace on the night – that terrible night – when Brian had so gently, and so slightly, moved his legs to gauge the damage.
John, he’s a mess…
It was seared into his memory, that night, and please God, just give him back to us, came the thought.
Lennon had no idea that he had watched it all while twisting himself into a tense ball of anxiety and worry for Paul’s sake -- both hands clenched together and raised to his face, his legs crossed, his body twisting and his face scowling as he followed each movement the women made, his eyes moving continually from them to Paul and back, as he held his breath.
Their treatment finished, both nurses took some time to examine Paul’s IV sites, and to bathe his brow and wrists with moist flannels. The younger nurse, before covering his feet with a blanket, delicately turned his leg, seeking to do the same on an artery in Paul’s foot. She looked up suddenly, gasping as if she’d heard something.
“S-stop.” It was so quiet.
The nurse straightened as both women stared. “Did he say…” she asked.
John looked up sharply, straining to hear.
He grabbed Jim’s hand, hardly daring to believe it. But he recognized the groggy sound of Paul’s voice rising from his drugged and feverish depths. He’d sounded the same on that night, had said nearly the same words.
“Mr. McCartney,” one of the nurses said in a wary voice as she moved to the head of the bed. “Are you with us?”
Paul groaned, a long, low, sound – feral and a little frightening.
The nurse looked at Jim, and then nodded, waving him over silently, and John took the older man’s elbow as they approached the bed. “Speak to your son, sir,” she whispered. “It might bring him up, to hear you.”
There was another groan, sustained and ugly, a sound like an animal, trapped and wounded.
“Paul…” Jim said softly, taking his hand. “I’m here. Will you come ‘round for your old dad, then? Let me know you hear me?”
With some difficulty, Jim gingerly brought himself up to the mattress, fitting himself there as he avoided all the tubes. He stroked Paul’s fringe from his forehead and left his hand there a moment. “His seems less hot then before,” he said to John.
“He is, a little,” the nurse confirmed in a soft voice. “Still fevered, but it’s a lower temperature than it was.”
“That’s a good sign, then, yes?” John raised his eyebrows. “Means the medicine’s working?”
“It’s…hopeful,” she allowed. “But it’s very early, yet, he’s only had a few doses.”
“But they’re extremely large dosages, so it’s a good sign, yes,” he repeated, no longer asking and determined to think as he pleased.
She nodded slightly as their attention was again turned to Paul, whose moans were growing louder.
“Son, I’m here,” Jim said, his own voice raised a bit. “Can you hear me, Paul? I’m right here, on your very bed I am. And John’s here with me.”
“I’m not on your bed, though,” John spoke up. “But come on, love, snap to it. Dad’s here. Jane’s here and Cyn, too,” he cajoled his mate and squeezed his hand. “The lads and Brian are all here. Everyone is waiting for you to show up, now. I’m here,” he repeated, more quietly.
“Aye, John’s here,” Jim McCartney said again, dangling Paul’s partner before him like a promised sweet. “All we need is you, son.”
And then Paul’s dry lips parted.
His voice was weak. John noticed Paul’s eyes moving quickly under his lids, as though he were dreaming deeply. “Mum…”
Jim looked at John, blinking hard. He’s been very close to death, then, he thought, if he’s calling Mary.
The younger man nodded, as though he’d not only heard the unspoken thought, but agreed with it. That spooky Lennon/McCartney communications voodoo, suddenly alive between them.
“Don’t touch me.” Paul slurred deeply. “Hurts.”
Jim quickly pulled his hand from his son’s, realizing too late that he wasn’t the one being addressed. The words were meant for others, and in that context they were repulsive to hear.
“Mum…” Paul seemed to be stretching out an arm, as though grasping for something just outside his reach. He raised it – held his arm above the mattress for just a moment -- before the effort ended. He looked and sounded utterly exhausted.
“No,” John gasped. “No, Paul…”
Jim reached out a hand, grasping John’s wrist and stilling him as he shook his head.
“Are you still with us, Paul? Are you with us, son?”
They could see his adam’s apple move up and down as the pale lad swallowed hugely.
“He’s coming up,” one of the nurses said excitedly.
“Da…” Paul croaked, his arm raised again, reaching out.
Jim grabbed at it, squeezing his hand. “I’m here, son. I’m right here with you. We’re all here.”
And with that, Paul McCartney finally seemed to surface, his eyelashes first fluttering and then parting – closing and parting, over and over -- his eyes opening a little bit wider each time, until their rich chocolate-and-honey coloring showed in the light.
“Paul!” Jim McCartney and John both exclaimed as one.
“Paul…you’re here!” John sobbed, unable to stop his grateful tears.
“There you are, my boy,” Jim said, sounding old and gruff and tender, all at once.
“Yes, I’m here.”
It seemed Paul was not quite with them, yet. His eyes were unfocused as he stared at his father. “Da…”
Jim brought Paul’s hand up to his own cheek and nodded. “Yes. Here I am, then.”
Paul frowned then, as if confused, as though he was just waking up.
“Paul. You’re awake. I’m right here.”
His son, his beautiful son, looked directly at him, and suddenly there he was, fully cognizant, recognition dawning on his face, which instantly crumbled. Tears rushed to Paul’s eyes. “Da…” he whispered, trying to move forward, trying to hug his father.
Jim McCartney breached the distance, pressing his head to his son’s, wrapping his arms around him as best he could. Making those soft Irish sounds of consolation that went beyond actual words, Jim leaned in, finally managing to bring Paul fully into his embrace amid all the tubes and wires. He hugged his son closely. “I’ve got you, son.”
“Sesh, shesh you, boyo.”
It went on like that. Jim McCartney murmuring nothing words to his son, Paul burying his face into his father’s neck, his voice strained, seeming incapable of doing anything beyond calling out to him.
With every repetition, though, John noticed Paul’s breath going deeper, as though he were working himself up to something.
“Yes, Paul, I’m here. You’re going to be alright, now.”
“Da…” Paul breathed, and then his voice cracked and went high, became a weeping, keening sound. “Daddy.”
“Yes… my boy…”
“They hurt me…oh... so bad, Daddy…”
And then both men were bawling. Crying together within their embrace.
“It’s going to be alright, Paulie…it will…”
John was wiping his tears away with both sleeves. The scene was so poignant and raw it was ripping him to shreds.
Paul was back. He was back, thank God, he was back.
But he was a wreck.
And he had called out, “Daddy” and his daddy had answered, “Here I am!”
John couldn’t have said why he was crying – whether for the return of his beloved Paul or the knowledge that if he cried out for love, for reassurance, for safety, no man would ever say “here I am” to him. Not unless it was Paul, himself… someday, someday, again.
But the tears would not stop.
He wasn’t alone in that. The nurses, deeply moved by the reunion played out before them, had receded into the background -- sniffling and smiling and holding each other in the way that women do. At his side, he was aware that Cynthia was touching him, pulling him back, away from the scene. Away from the shoulders -- the shuddering shoulders, those words, wept out, again and again, “Da…Daddy…”
She led her husband to the doorway, crowded now with faces, all of them covered in tears. Ringo and George were sharing a tight and weepy embrace. Jane’s face was nearly unrecognizable, swollen and contorted with emotion, and she was reaching out to Brian.
The group made room for him to enter, but he hesitated a moment, looking back at Paul and his father. He pulled aside the drapes, re-opening the observation window and letting light into the room.
It was enough to see, to keep a watch on Paul. They didn’t need to hear the exchange between father and son. Whatever the actual words between them, John thought, all they were really saying to each other was all that ever needed saying:
“Daddy, my Daddy”
And, “My son. Oh, my son.”