Time seemed to have slowed again. John held on to the wheeled-stretcher Paul had been put on and ran with the doctors and attendants and Ringo and George as they rushed down the hall.
From the speed they were moving, John knew, with a sickening roll of his stomach, that Paul was bad off.
They entered a room and bright lights were suddenly turned on and Paul seemed helplessly on display as he was rolled under them. One of the doctors, with a surface expression of sympathy and underlying expression on annoyance, motioned to the three Beatles and said,
"Someone get them out of here!"
A young, professional-looking nurse came to them and started to turn them around, saying,
"Yes, Dr. Feingold. Mr. Lennon? Mr. Harrison? Mr. Starr? I'm afraid you can't follow your friend. Please come with me."
"But we can't leave him--" John started.
The nurse nodded her head and said, "I know. But he's in good hands. Don't worry."
John almost let himself relent to the girl's voice---it was so convincing---but as they moved out of the swinging doors, he turned for a second to reassure himself of Paul's safety.
In that moment, he and everyone else gave a little shout of dismay.
Paul's body jolted in one violent spasm and then he lay still, in a crooked condition.
The heart monitor stopped its rhythmic beat and shrieked out one long BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPP.....
Its image of a bumpy line representing Paul's heartbeat suddenly changed to a flat, glaring line representing no heartbeat.
And John could hear nothing but that shrill beep and see nothing but a twisted body and a tortured face.
The doctor who had asked them to leave in the first place was snarling now.
George knew John was going to protest and clapped his hand over John's mouth as Ringo helped pull him out. The nurse led them down the hall to an empty VIP waiting room and George and Ringo dropped a struggling John in a chair as the nurse quietly left and closed the door.
We left him, their minds echoed to each other as soon as the room was silent. And he left us.
"He's gone," John said in a flat, toneless voice.
The others turned to look at him. He was sitting up, his eyes glazed and blank and gazing beyond the limits of the room. His face was absolutely expressionless.
"He's dead. Paul's dead!" John's face turned into a ferocious mask. "He's gone! He's fucking gone! And what in the name of bloody hell are we doing? Sittin' on our arses---alive. Do you hear me? Alive. And while he's fucking dead. My best friend---dead! He was like a damn brother to me---Fuck you, Paul!" John suddenly shouted, his eyes gleaming brightly as he looked up at the ceiling.
He could almost see Paul up there smiling. "Fuck you for dying! Damn you for leaving me here! P--a--u--l---!"
John buried his face in his hands and gave a heart-wrenching moan. He pulled up his knees and hid himself from the world and from the other two brothers that were with him.
George just dropped to the floor, landing on his knees. He closed his eyes and saw their lifeless Paul in various stages of illness; and then he saw the James Paul McCartney they knew---the one that smiled, the one that laughed, the one that was often generous, and the one that could kick your ass good and hard if you needed it. He wanted fiercely to cry, but just as fiercely, battled off the tears.
"No!" he finally yelled, and doubled over almost as if he were physically hurt. He just let the tears come and with the tears came memories...
"Paul McCartney is dead."
It was Ringo who said this, and George was muttering it under his breath to help himself realize that this wasn't some bull crap someone thought up.
Ringo was standing with his hands deep in his pockets and his blue eyes were sadly soft as they looked at the floor, studying nothing in particular.
He repeated it:
"Paul McCartney is dead."
His voice was as toneless as John's had been and George half-expected Ringo to start screaming. But he didn't. He was only trying to confirm the truth to himself.
He stood still for a long time. A tear dropped from his eye.
Paul was dead, and John looked so ill that he would probably be next.
"What is it?"
"Those kids are cryin' up a storm and..."
"Can you blame them? They were all like brothers. I feel like crying myself. He was such a nice young man..."
"Ahh, but don't you see?"
Dr. Feingold pointed to the heart monitor.
"Mr. McCartney is actually quite..."
There was a noise---the sucking splashing sound that fills your ears when you jump into a swimming pool. He crashed through the water and had his eyes open. He could see almost as well as if he were wearing goggles.
John was floating in front of him and his face was angry, but also terrified. It said 'I hate you, I love you, and don't leave me alone' all at once. He was thrashing his fist around and yelling in a throaty kind of voice.
Paul tread water underwater and stared back into John's eyes.
John's yelling stopped and he stared back into Paul.
"It's okay, John," Paul tried to say, but he had no voice. He suddenly coughed and sucked in too much water. John immediately swam to him and held him upright as he coughed in the water. When he stopped, his voice was there, as if it had never left him.
"Why did you do that, Paul? Why did you leave me?" John was hugging him tight and didn't want to let go.
"It wasn't my fault, John..."
"I know...just don't do that again!"
And suddenly, he felt a tremendous need to surface and get some air.
John followed right behind him.
George was sleeping on his side, curled up in fetal position, and Ringo had slept sitting up in a chair. John found that he was all wet and sticky and flushed with tears and was still hugging his knees.
How long had it been?
He didn't know, but he had a strong feeling that he should go in to see Paul. If his (& Paul's) dream meant what he thought it did, then Paul had taken a breath and was now waiting for John to catch up.
He didn't want to raise any hopes, so he went out silently and found that there were only a few doctors and nurses walking the halls. Security had done a good job.
He quietly slipped into the room where Paul was and found his friend-brother lying quite still, but his chest softly rose and fell. His heartbeat was normal, according to the monitor, and his face wasn't white anymore---it had resumed its natural hue.
John went to the side of the bed (the doctors had moved him) and took a chair to sit in. He sat and studied Paul for a long time.
He leaned his chest on the side of the bed and took Paul's hand for a moment to let him know that he was there.
Paul's hand closed on his in a warm, reassuring squeeze. John looked up, squeezing Paul's hand in return, and found that Paul was awake, but was breathing heavily.
"Hello, John luv," he said softly, smiling, his breathing slowing until it was normal. "That was some swim, wasn't it?"
Copyright 2000 and beyond: Lissa Michelle Supler/Strawberry Sunshine
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