“So here’s my question,” said George, still scratching the belly of a very persistent Butterfly Stomper, boneless and purring on its back. “Why are we here in the first place?”
“What can you mean by that?” asked Ringo, so indignant he nearly spat out the flower he was chewing.
“Old Fred came and got us,” said Paul from the lap of a harpist named Marisol.
“What else were we doing?” said John, still blowing words into existence and stacking them up. Codified. Haggard. Mellifluous. Umami.
The four of them (plus the Butterfly Stomper who’d taken a shine to George, and the charming Marisol, whose harp sat cradled against her shoulder) were lounging on a knoll, enjoying Pepperland in the second-day haze of a monumental unification party. George watched the Butterfly Stomper kick its shod feet. “Obviously you needed us,” he said, “and obviously we like being needed, but all we did was sing.”
“You sang wonderfully,” said Marisol, and Paul sighed as she ran her fingers through his hair.
“We brought down the house,” he added.
George was unimpressed. “Naturally. But—and no offense, madame—why didn’t you all sing? If that was what it took.”
John balanced Humbled on top of Mustard. “Are you complaining that we’re here?”
“I’m sure there were extenuating circumstances,” said Ringo.
Marisol glanced at the Butterfly Stomper. “The Meanies wouldn’t let us.”
“The Meanies didn’t let us either,” said George. “But we’re four people, eight if you count the other fellas. I’m just putting that out there.”
“You’re a real old goat sometimes, you know that?” Paul looked up at Marisol. “Come on, love, let’s show him, eh?” He winked at John. “If I fell in love with you, would you promise to be true and help me understand...”
Marisol smiled, tuned in and faraway, and began plucking an accompaniment on her strings. After a few more lines, Paul trailed off. “D’you know that one?”
George scoffed. “Remind me, how many leagues under the seas are we?”
“Eighty thousand,” said Marisol mildly. “But I like that one.”
“Can you sing it?”
Ringo sighed. “George...”
Marisol looked between them. She opened her mouth. The Butterfly Stomper batted at George’s wrist. Paul crossed his ankles. Marisol reached for her harp and elaborated on the tune, heightening it and subverting it and upending the original. The last note hung perfectly in the air, until John piped up. “But you don’t sing?”
She shrugged. “Sgt. Pepper’s boys do all the singing.”
Ringo frowned. “Huh.”
“Beg pardon, Your Blueness—”
“It’s Your Newness!” the Chief Blue Meanie shrieked, though he calmed down with a quick caress of the rose blooming at the tip of his nose. “But I will also answer to Cerulio, which is much shorter than my full title.” He yanked his attendant henchmeanie toward him. “Tell them, Max.”
Max saluted. “Your Royal Navy Slate of Robin’s Cornflower Oxford-on-Azure Baby-stocking—”
John and George looked at each other. “Pablo Picasso’d have a field day,” George said.
“If we may, Your Newness, explore a bit of recent and perhaps unpleasant history,” began John.
The Chief Blue Meanie threaded his bear claw fingers together. “Yes?”
“Under the former circumstances between the Blue People and the original residents of Pepperland—”
“We came here at the same time,” the Chief Blue Meanie cooed. “But go on.”
John blinked. “We were just wondering if anyone staged any rebellions when you were in charge.”
“Other than you?” said the Chief Blue Meanie sweetly.
The Chief Blue Meanie picked idly at a few loose petals in his coat. “Several of our present friends did try and intrude on the Grand Bandstand to steal instruments, but the Bulldogs and the Countdown Clowns took very good care of them. Rhythm was strictly prohibited, save for marching. Anyone who hummed was Bonked if detected, and all of them who did were.” His ears flapped as he shook his head. “No, we were quite entrenched, until you arrived.” He brightened, practically periwinkle in some respects. “But it’s so much pleasanter now! I assure you we’re all quite reformed and love music. Isn’t that right, Max?”
“Yes, Your Newness!” Max chirped.
“‘Course,” said John, glancing sidelong at George.
Jeremy’s tail puffed to nearly twice its size with delight. “Yes!” he cried, balancing on a fallen tree trunk. “I have been cross-referencing oral accounts of recent events whenever it’s been possible to do so! I intend to compile an authoritative text, in the interests of avoiding this very thing in the future.”
Paul looked at Ringo. “That’s very efficient when you think about it.”
Ringo nodded. “Jeremy, you’re an example to us all. What have you learned?”
Jeremy ascended the trunk, perching himself at the top end like an orator. “Foundational myths, why they don’t kiss, verse and refrain, jargon and slang, why they bonk apples, why there aren’t chapels, Edwardian style, why music’s worthwhile.”
“Is that all?” said Paul.
“Not by a nautical mile!” Jeremy twirled. “What might I impart?”
“It’s a bit complicated,” said Ringo. “But that’s not a problem, I suppose.”
“Can you tell us what the Meanies are saying? About why they did it all?”
“Why, because they’re Meanies!” Jeremy exclaimed.
Ringo frowned. “Here now, let’s be generous some.”
“Not a cross sound! Let me expound.”
What the Meanies told Jeremy Hilary Boob, PhD:
We came from the Great Blue Yonder. Everyone knows that. First we sank, then we swam, then we walked, then we wandered. I’m not telling you anything new. That’s what happens when people came from where we come from. Why, what about you? What do you remember, eh?
“Then I was prodded in the paunch,” Jeremy added, before continuing.
We were born from bombshells. We built ourselves up from rationing and rumbles. We got in the water. We met everybody, inside and out. We grew up on noises. Factories. Machines. Streets. Static. Boot heels. Sirens. Threats. We built ourselves up. You are what you are. We just want to be comfortable.
“Sirens?” said Paul.
Ringo canted his head. “Bombs?”
Jeremy nodded. “Then they came through the many seas to Pepperland, on foot.”
Paul frowned. “How about the others, then?”
Jeremy squirmed. “Ah, well, they all say the same thing, more or less. A different same thing.”
Jeremy drew himself up. “Four scores and thirty-two bars ago, our Four Mothers and Four Fathers made it in this yellow submarine.”
“Ah, the old Quartets line.” Ringo looked to Paul. “Well, that complicates things a bit.”
George wrinkled his nose. “Why would they say that?”
Ringo shrugged. “I don’t know, that’s just what he said they said.”
John lay on the grass, only listening by half. His pile of words was getting higher and high. The sky was rippling at the top, like old glass, or summers at the seaside. There seemed to be something to say for not hurrying back to Liverpool, though it was likely someone had missed the four of them by now.
Paul was nattering on about hope and uplift and how everyone can learn or unlearn anytime at all. John focused on his words again. Firmament had gone hazy; Ticket and Baloney had dissipated entirely. In their place, suspended in midair, were tiny, pulsing beads, each a rich, shimmering color. John pushed himself upright and peered at them.
“Look, don’t you think someone should mention—”
John got to his feet. He scratched his hairline and surveyed what he could of Pepperland. Why wouldn’t they stay? Everyone loved what they loved here. All of Pepperland thrived on what they valued. It was all very pat.
“I have to talk with John,” he said, and left.
“The Lord Mayor told me what you said.” The other John smirked. “You’re right. It’s uncanny because you are the originals.”
“The philosophical underpinnings of that kind of paradox are beyond me at the moment, I’m afraid,” John said. He fiddled with the remnants of a small orange Chrononaut which he’d accidentally stowed in his pocket.
The other John pointed. “How d’you think you’re able to do that?”
John rolled the little word between his fingers. “Just cleverness, I reckoned.”
“Generally that’s true.”
“I’ve always thought so.”
“But you’re the only one who can do it,” said the other John. “If they put their minds to it, I bet your Paul, George and Ringo could too.”
“Why would that be?”
The other John tapped his temple.
“Ah,” said John.
The other John nodded. “It’s all in the mind.”
“And the fact that no one else sings here, is that—?”
“That’s just ego at work,” said the other John. “When the Composers built Pepperland, they didn’t want collaborators. They wanted an audience.”
“There’s a waste. And who’re these Composers when they’re at home?”
“Have a lucky guess, John.”
John raised his eyebrows. The other John shrugged. “We were just kids. We didn’t know any better.”
Take a childhood. In fact, just take a child. Let him get his start like the universe, in between explosions, in between bombs. Give him an air raid wail. Give him thick curtains and a curfew and a mother who sings to keep him quiet.
Fill his head with moving pictures and talk of bad men who march and fly and shoot. Fill his head with how it used to be, vaudeville and carousels and buttons and bustles and parades. Show him that the world can change, that we sing as we clean the rubble up. Show him that broken places can be replaced, or fixed, or simply left to their own devices. Show him that we can let ourselves go.
We can let ourselves go.
Take a child. He’s small and sick. He’s the youngest, and hungry. He’s a bright boy, but lower class. Put him in the water, and he’ll float until he’s done. He’ll separate, and parts of him will drift and sink away.
You feel better after a nice dip in the ocean, don’t you?
Law of conservation of energy. Nothing vanishes, not even nothing. It just goes somewhere else. It goes where it feels right. Some of it wants to make music. Some of it knows that it’s Blue.
“The world always happens by accident,” said the other John.
John thought about that, the towering questions of nature, nurture and necessity. “Will we need to come back?”
The other John grinned. “Not unless you want to.”
“Ah,” said John, and tapped the side of his nose. “I see you’ve got it in hand.”
“‘Course.” The other John nodded. “Everyone should know how to sing. Who knows what’ll come of it?”