*

SHE LOVES YOU

Davenport had always lived a short train journey from Liverpool, and when he was 15 he decided it was high time to visit the Beatles memorabilia there. To seek out the ultimate cavern, that great cathedral space within music’s labyrinthine giant ear.

Whilst a baby, he’d never understood what was meant by the word Liverpool. However, on slipping free from his mother’s arms for the first time late one Sunday afternoon, he spotted a sepia photograph of the ancient Beatles glued to a tin where, he later learned, his mother kept stale biscuits for the Trick-or-Treaters each Halloween.

This being the first picture he’d ever seen and then remembered, Davenport’s brain kept a little bit of itself devoted.

He later thought that John Lennon — a name first used by his Mum when describing the surrounding circumstances of his birth and death, together with information about the Catcher in the Rye book and the Yoko Ono phenomenon — was a sad case of history gone wrong, more even than Kennedy or others who were done harm by history. He knew all about such things, for his mother doted on Lennon’s memory and always wore his face on a bespoke brooch held firm to her fascinator hat.

School did not teach him much about Liverpool, but a lot about London. He did not think that fair. It also taught him things. That there were people in any city, whatever its name, quite different from normal people like Davenport and his mother or like his school friends and even the teacher who all lived in the countryside. That trains often went below the pavements like horizontal chimney-sweeps. That any British city was bigger than all the world’s other cities put together. That any city had mighty cathedrals sowing the skylines like threadbare forests of faith. But the city the teacher pinned on the blackboard was not Liverpool.

****

The train loitered through the countryside as if it had lost its way. Davenport was sitting in the corner of the carriage, pretending to read a book, as his mind reacted to scenes it had not yet experienced. The book was the one by JD Salinger, and the print on the pages was in blocks of foreign black.

Use Town was the place the station ticket-puncher had mentioned as being the train’s destination. Near Liverpool it was, he was assured by someone. Use Town may even have one of those underground trains. The train he was now on might even change into an underground one, come Liverpool.

There were three other people in the carriage; a woman with a large flowery hat not unlike his mother’s fascinator and a man who sniggered a lot and a little girl in the other corner of the seat who was evidently someone’s daughter.

Davenport stared at the girl. She must be 12, only 3 years younger than him.

‘Is it Use Town this train’s going?’ he asked. This was the first time he had spoken on a train.

‘USETON,’ the girl mumbled, after a tunnel.

‘Is it near Liverpool?’ he asked.

‘It’s not NEAR anywhere, it’s IN London, it’s part of London. A big station.’

‘Does the train go underground there and reach Liverpool — I want to go to Liverpool to see its cavern, you see?’

‘No, you’ll have to change.’

Davenport pondered. He’ll have to change. He nodded, understanding perhaps for the first time.

****

The hubbub of the big station was more surprising than he expected. It hit him like a chain of those summer storms chasing each other around the hills surrounding Davenport’s village back home. The little girl told him where to go. He hadn’t realised that he could have relieved himself on the train.

The man and the behatted woman, Davenport saw, had turned themselves over to the station lost property office — they evidently were even more bemused than Davenport.

To his horror he lost his little friend in the crowds. And the crowds in Useton seemed not to be at all like the little bunches that automatically formed during games of ‘Denno’ in the school playground of his childhood. For here they were constituted of unco-ordinated bodies in sheer mindless selfishness. Davenport found himself party to a particularly large one led by a gangling youth with ear-rings — and this crowd violently careered from one end of the concourse to the other like Davenport’s demented Uncle in the padded cell back home.

Eventually he was expelled by the crowd outside Smiths, where a policeman was standing guard.

‘How can I change?’ asked Davenport, without fear or favour, for policemen were friendly back home.

‘Spain off, you bugger! I’m soddin’ well not going’ to tell YOU anything!’

This was like a foreign language to Davenport.

But, evidently, the policeman was not impressed with Davenport’s reaction, so he decided to try the soft touch, as an alternative:

‘Well, young man, see that over there — that’s what they call Dosser’s Bar…’

And he pointed to a joint bursting to the seams with ill-dressed miscreants tipping wine-glass after wine-glass into their thirsters.

The policeman continued

‘Go in there and I’m sure they’ll give yer a drinky on the ‘ouse…’

Davenport wandered over to the evil-looking place and a great stench of urine met him like he remembered the boy’s toilets in the playground back home. And amid all the dirt and the foul language, he spotted the girl from the train, who was talking to one of the customers. He feared for her safety.

Doubtlessly, Davenport can’t recall much about it least of all the motives that must have taken hold of him unbeknownst, but he took the girl’s hand, dragged her out into the concourse and delivered her up to the policeman. Who forthwith took her away to apparent safety.

****

He reached the City with the help of a friendly-seeming taxi-man who took pity on Davenport after finding him in the empty bonnet pretending to be the engine. Davenport’s Uncle evidently had a lot to answer for.

The taxi-man knew EVERYTHING about London; where to go to find Liverpool, what to do when you got there and, most important, how to change.

Davenport had used up all his disposable assets on the train journey, but he had a tanner left. The taxi-man knew the A to Z like the back of his hand and, for the tanner, he agreed to allow Davenport to follow his taxi on foot. But he couldn’t get it started, for some reason, so he palmed Davenport off with some complicated misdirections… And off Davenport went, on his own.

However, before he rounded the final corner away from Useton, he turned to wave goodbye to the taxi-man. But he’d gone… no doubt for a snifter with the dossers.

****

All roads lead to St. Paul’s Cathedral, was an expression that circled in his head for no obvious reason. Would that be Paul McCartney? he wondered. And, after several hours, a tired and hungry Davenport arrived before the mighty cathedral which someone had told him wasn’t far from Liverpool.

The enormous dome lifted into the blue sky. If nothing else, Davenport had chosen a nice day for his trip — and the sides of the pillared building had statues dotted about like rock-climbers. But it was the dome to which his gaze kept returning: a bit like his mother’s fascinator-hat but without the brooch or flowers.

He was in awe. If he had not changed at Useton, he was certainly changing now. Sublimity filled his head, gorgeous rhythms of faith and desire.

Then he heard the flapping. From somewhere beyond the dome, a mighty bird as big as the cathedral itself must have been slowing its motion for alightment. Davenport still could not see what made such a noise — it was probably Concorde (the teacher had also once pinned a picture of this wondrous jet liner on the blackboard back home) with new found leather wings and spindled snout.

But what eventually loomed above the dome was simply a monstrosity. Its face was the Devil’s own Halloween mask, with skin in leprous folds, wild staring eyes swimming in pools of blood, champing beak of yellow splintered bone and wattles of sickly fire. It had Lennon’s nose.

The ribbed, webby wings suddenly filled the sky, as if the earth itself had unfurled them.

Davenport called out for his mother. I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND he screeched. PLEASE, PLEASE, ME.

He felt a small hand slip into his and, looking down, he saw the girl he’d met on the train (last seen traipsing off with a policeman) smiling up at him.

‘I didn’t let him,’ she mumbled mysteriously.

‘Good,’ replied Davenport, without really understanding why.

They wandered off together to where they thought Useton would be. But they inadvertently found Liverpool Street instead. He dropped the book he’d been reading, in excitement, as he ran joyfully towards the entrance to the station, the girl hastening in his wake.

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