March 5, 2013 by The Citron Review
by Joan Dempsey
The three things that meant the most to him are dead now: John Lennon, his wife Ellie, and the throat cancer he conquered six months back. Ellie’s funeral was just yesterday, and today he’s sitting in the Lennon room of their house, wondering what to do next.
Almost everything in the Lennon room was a gift from Ellie. On their second date she had presented the first piece, a ticket stub from a Beatles’ concert she’d gone to in New York. I’m going to marry her, he’d thought then, and two years later he had. By their fourth date he’d matted and framed and hung the ticket, lone witness to their first frantic lovemaking, which took two minutes of shoving against his desk. Now the desk is undisturbed, its surface papered over with portraits of Lennon pressed under glass.
The ticket stub has long been lost amidst the hubbub of his walls. He looks around and wonders suddenly if Ellie ever got tired of John Lennon. She never said and he never thought to ask. During his long battle with cancer, she’d brought him something almost every week, leaving it just outside the door: a vintage album cover, a signed poster, an original New York Times announcing Lennon’s death. It was the best thing he’d ever done, the project of framing and hanging, and he’d holed up in that room for far too long, right on through to the front page headline in their local paper: Albany Man Beats Back Cancer. He’d become a local celebrity because of his fight. People on the street recognized him from the newspaper photograph, a strapping man, ropey arms thrust up in defiance, each hand gripping the neck of a guitar. He’d framed that one, too. But then he was cancer-free, once again ordinary. He stayed off the streets, holed up in the Lennon room. After a while, Ellie had arranged for a hand-written note from Yoko Ono.
Today the crowded walls are too much for him. He closes the door on Lennon. Still holding the cold knob, he stands in the dark hall, waits for his eyes to adjust, and wanders into the empty house. For the first time he understands just how hard it must have been to get that note from Yoko Ono. He moves from room to room and, with mounting dread, searches for evidence of what he’s begun to suspect he won’t find: something cherished not by him, but by Ellie.
Joan Dempsey is a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Antioch University Los Angeles, and in 2012 she was awarded a significant research grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation for work on Prelude: A Novel. Her work has appeared in The Adirondack Review, Alligator Juniper, Obsidian: Literature of the African Diaspora and heard on National Public Radio. She lives in Maine, and is currently at work on her second novel.