A Hard Midsummer's Night
Skip to Scene Two/Three
“Now we get to have fun for real,” John quipped to Ringo as their chauffer drove them down the rainy streets of London.
“Yeah!” It had been a busy couple of days: filming scenes for their movie, newly titled A Hard Day’s Night (Ringo was secretly pleased they’d adopted his off-the-cuff joke for the title); recording the title song; and being interviewed by their American friend Ed Sullivan. It was high time they got a few free hours to relax. “It’s time we got some real drinks, not the watered-down crap we had on the set,” Ringo continued.
“And birds,” Paul said.
“Ooh, yeah.” John leered as if he didn’t have a wife and one-year-old son waiting at home. “Don’t forget the birds.”
He and Paul got into an animated discussion about which of the girls in the discotheque scene they’d just finished filming was the prettiest. George stuck an occasional word in for a blonde model named Patti who’d appeared in some of the train scenes. He’d taken a strong fancy to her, even though she was engaged to someone else. He’d probably get her in the end anyway, Ringo figured. The other three always pulled a lot of birds everywhere they went. Sure, he had his own fans too, but not so many. Sometimes he wondered what it was that made the other three so compelling.
“Where exactly are we going tonight anyway?” George asked.
They all looked at each other and shrugged. It didn’t really matter; they received the same adulation wherever they appeared.
“Well, I want to go somewhere different,” he said, looking at them as if for approval.
“Like where?” Paul asked. “Haven’t we already gone to all the best spots?”
“What about that one? I don’t recall seeing it before. Stop the car, driver.”
They all leaned towards the left window, even John, who wasn’t wearing his spectacles and most likely couldn’t see past the drop-spattered glass. Ringo could, but he couldn’t figure out what George had noticed. All that was out there in the deserted street was a couple of Teddy boys standing in front of the window of an abandoned shop. But the other three stared at the entrance as if it was the gateway to an exotic world like the ones Ringo enjoyed reading about.
John frowned as he squinted. “What’s that sign say?”
“The Faerie Court,” Paul answered.
“Maybe we’d best pass it by then. Sounds more like Brian’s sort of place than ours.”
“I don’t know,” George said. “Those chaps are all dressed up funny, but old-fashioned funny, not queer-funny.”
Ringo shook his head. “You three are all soft. They’re just ordinary Teddy boys.”
The others turned to stare at him, the expressions on their faces clearly stating they thought he was the soft one.
“Don’t you see what they’re wearing?” John asked. “Their clothes are too colorful for Teddys.”
“And that gold-painted club entrance, with all the greenery and trees showing through the window. It looks like you’re walking into a forest….”
“And the music.” Paul pressed his ears to the window. “It’s not Top of the Pops material, but there’s something alluring about it all the same.”
Ringo wondered if he was the butt of a joke they’d concocted earlier. “Go on, there’s nothing like that out there.”
The others didn’t laugh at him; they simply continued looking at him strangely, with stubborn lights in their eyes as if they completely believed in this fantasy world they were trying to sell him. Suddenly wondering if he wasn’t the odd man out after all, Ringo turned to the driver. “Do you see anything unusual out there?”
“No, Mr. Starr.”
“You two really can’t see it?” John laughed. “Ha! For once in me life I’m not the blind one.”
“I wonder why we can see it and Ringo can’t,” George said.
“Maybe he just needs to get closer.” Paul opened the door. “Looks like a fun place anyway.”
Ringo wasn’t sure about that, but he gave up and followed Paul and George, with John trailing all three of them. The driver pulled over and parked. Ringo wondered why he bothered, since they certainly wouldn’t be staying long.
The Teddy boys drew to attention as the Beatles approached them, scrutinizing them closely. One of them pointed at Paul, George, and John. “You, you, and you. You all have the Blood. But your companion….”
“Comes with us,” John snapped.
“As you wish.” The Teddy boy’s smile was predatory, like a cat’s. “This will be…quite interesting.”
The Teddy boys stepped to each side of the entrance, ushering them in with mocking bows. As Ringo passed through the door, he felt a strange tingle that quickly faded.
The other three took only a couple of steps before they stopped, gaping as they stared at their surroundings. Again, Ringo couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. Now that they were inside, he could see this really was a club of some sort, but it didn’t look lively. The other attendees were all attractive, but the music they were listening or dancing to sounded like something from another century. The musicians played funny-looking instruments: things that looked like pear-shaped, short-necked guitars; an oddly-shaped zither; and small drums. A bored-looking matron reclined on a raised, cushioned dais in one corner; she was surrounded by a quartet of beautiful young women who obeyed her every whim. But what really drew Ringo’s attention was the bar along one wall. A red-haired man produced dainty-looking drinks from under it. I hope he can pull a decent pint too, Ringo thought. He blinked as he stared at the mirror behind the man. For a moment, he could have sworn the man’s reflection had pointed ears….
“Let’s get ourselves something wet, shall we?” John asked him. “The others can join us later, if we all don’t pull some birds first.”
Ringo looked around. George had drifted over to the musicians, and Paul had joined the crowd dancing attendance on the matron. “Sounds good to me,” he said.
He led the way, trying to ignore the curious stares they drew from everyone else. To his relief, no one screamed, “It’s the Beatles!” and rushed them. No one even seemed to recognize them; he’d thought everyone in Britain – maybe even the whole world – knew who they were. Maybe there was something good about this dull club George had found after all.
As they took seats at the bar, the matron dismissed her attendants with a gesture. They spilt up, each of the birds heading for one of Ringo’s mates. To his delight, the prettiest approached him. She was slight and short, with lavender-blue eyes and hair the color of fresh cream. A wreath of flowers crowned her. Her mauve-colored dress obeyed no modern style, but it swirled around her as if it was a plaything of a spring breeze. “Hello, good sir.” She surprised him by curtseying. “You are new here.”
“Yeah.” At her offended look, Ringo realized he’d better put on some posh manners. “I mean, yes.” Following her lead, he bowed. “Richard Starkey at your service, but everyone calls me Ringo.”
“I hight Peaseblossom.”
He blinked at her, trying to figure out what she meant. “You mean, your name is Peaseblossom?”
“Aye, good sir.” She blushed. “I crave your pardon; I fear your tongue is much changed since I last spoke with a child of Adam.”
“Call me Ringo. And me Da’s name is Ritchie, not Adam.”
“I mean the father of mortals, of course.”
He did a double take. “You say that like you’re not a mortal.”
Peaseblossom stood ramrod straight with indignation. “I am certainly not a mortal. I’ve attended our fair Queen for over a dozen of your generations.”
“Go on, find someone softer to tell that to.” Ringo turned to the bartender, who was glowering at the way Peaseblossom’s silver-haired friend fawned over a smirking John. “Barkeep, I’ll have a pint of bitter, please.” He fumbled for a few shillings. This bird might be pretty, but he’d had enough of these odd jokes at his expense.
“Soft?” Peaseblossom poked his bicep. “You’re not soft at all; you feel like a man should.” He caught a whiff of her flowery fragrance. She whispered into his ear, “I bet you feel like that all the way down, not like the rest of the Faerie Court….”
Ringo felt himself grow harder at her words, but he still wanted to know what was going on. “What’s this about a Faerie Court?” His mates had said something earlier about fairies; either this was some elaborate joke they’d somehow managed to concoct in the few spare moments they had, or maybe this was for real….
“You don’t have the Blood, or else you’d be able to see past the illusions King Oberon set up to protect us,” Peaseblossom replied. “Let me give you my favor, and you’ll understand.”
She pulled a pale flower out of her wreath and twined it in the gray streak in his hair. And with that simple gesture, everything around him changed.
Ringo didn’t bother to hide his amazement as he looked around. Now the club really appeared to be set in the middle of a forest, the kind of forest where the trees reached straight for Heaven and brought a little of its solemnity back down to Earth. Silk pillows and tree stumps formed all the furniture, from the regal divan to his own seat. The matron presiding over the club wore a crown of starlight and ornate robes. The rest of the crowd was also transformed; their faces were sharper, and their clothes were wild and shocking enough to stun audiences on either side of the Atlantic. The bartender’s face shifted constantly, looking like a fox’s one instant, John’s the next. Even Peaseblossom looked different with pointed ears and slanted eyes.
“This really is the Faerie Court!” Ringo said. He stared at Peaseblossom in wonderment. “And you’re … you’re a …”
She shook her head; he had the feeling she wanted to chide him for being so slow. “Yes. I am of Faerie.”
He touched his forefinger to her hand. It felt as warm and soft as any human girl’s, but it seemed infinitely more fragile, like living glass. Feeling like a clumsy lumbering giant next to her, he slowly ran his finger up her bare arm, over her shoulder, and up her neck to her ear. She permitted the touch, though she shivered when he reached the tip. It was so thin he could feel her pulse quicken.
“Why would someone as gear as you be interested in an ordinary chap like me?” he asked, releasing her.
“‘Gear?’ Is that good?”
“It’s great, marvelous even.”
“No one’s ever called me marvelous before.” Her eyes lit up. “I am only a simple handmaiden to the queen, subject to her commands. I am fortunate that my mistress has given me such a pleasant command to obey.”
Ringo wondered what she meant by that, but before he could ask, he overheard John’s bird say, “I still say John here could be of your Blood, Robin Goodfellow.”
“I do not dally with mortals,” the bartender replied. “You know what sport I prefer, Cobweb.”
“Yes, but it’s not the sport I want to play.” She shook her hair scornfully and maneuvered closer to John. “And you can’t be as good at it as I’m sure this handsome young man is.”
“Oh, if you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about, I’m very good at it indeed,” John said, grinning.
Robin scowled briefly as he edged closer to John. Ringo wondered if he should say something to John, but he didn’t want to interfere with his mate’s love life, even if another fellow was involved.
“Oh, the Blood runs hotter when it is thin,” Robin said, “but you could have it only through your family’s sin.” He pointed accusingly at John.
“What?” John sprang up so quickly he nearly knocked Cobweb to the floor. “How dare you talk about Julia like that?” He threw a punch at Robin, but the bartender dodged before it connected.
Now Ringo had to do something before things got out of hand. “John, don’t!” He rose and headed toward his mate, but Peaseblossom got between them.
“Hold back, Ringo!” she told him. “You’re no match for Robin Goodfellow. He’s Puck!”
“Puck?” That sounded faintly familiar, but he couldn’t remember from where. It didn’t matter who Puck was; he had to stand by his mate. Thanks to Peaseblossom’s interference, Paul and George had already reached John before he could. Their birds, a petite blonde and a brunette, watched as they struggled to grab John’s arms before he hit his tormentor.
“Aha, you wish to join the sport too?” Puck asked. “Welcome, then! The more, the merrier!”
He skipped out of John’s reach again and put his hand into his pocket. When he drew it out again, his fist was clamped shut as if he had drawn out a weapon. But all he flung at Ringo’s mates were golden dust motes that shimmered briefly in the air before landing on Paul, John, and George. Surely the dust couldn’t actually hurt them….
“Me head!” Paul released John’s arm to cover his ears. With panicked looks on their faces, John and George copied him. It didn’t help. As Ringo watched in horror, his friends’ faces grew gray and furry. Their mouths and chins extended into muzzles, and thin, horse-like ears rose above their heads.
“You…you look like donkeys,” Ringo blurted.
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he wished them back in, unspoken. His friends’ eyes had become large and dark brown under Puck’s magic, but their transformation didn’t take the sting out of the glares they gave him. Their stares hardened as the rest of the Faerie Court broke out into laughter. Ringo had a hard time keeping his own expression straight. The donkey heads looked especially out of place on his friends’ bodies.
The queen finally looked in their direction. “Your sport displeases me, Puck.”
He flashed pointed white teeth. “But not my king.”
A chagrined expression crossed over her face as she suddenly became fascinated by her thimble-sized cup. Clearly she wasn’t going to help Ringo or his friends any further.
“You’re a fine friend just standing there and laughing at us, Ringo,” George said. He dragged his R’s out, but otherwise he still sounded like himself. “Why didn’t you help us with John? Did you know this was going to happen?”
“What are Brian and Richard going to say when we go to that telly rehearsal tomorrow?” Paul asked. “We’ll be laughingstocks! Why did this have to happen just as we were getting somewhere?”
Before anyone could stop him, John picked up a forgotten mug and tossed it at Puck, who was doubled over with laughter.
“Change these fuckin’ ‘eads back right now, you asshole,” he said.
Puck whooped himself into another fit. “I may be an asshole, but you’re an asshead.”
John’s ears swiveled back as he bared thick teeth. He’s not going to make it worse, is he? Ringo thought. He looked at his friend. Yeah, he really could make it worse.
“Isn’t there anything I can do?” he asked Peaseblossom.
She shrugged. “What can you, a mortal, do against Puck?”
What could he do indeed? He wasn’t as quick-witted as John or charming like Paul, and he certainly couldn’t play guitar like George. He was just the drummer. But he put his heart and soul into his drumming….
He stepped past Peaseblossom. “Hey, you, Mr. Puck,” he said. “I challenge you.”
Puck stopped laughing. “You, challenge me?”
“Yeah, to drumming.” He went over to the musicians. “Mind if I borrow one of these? Thanks.” He tapped out a quick rhythm on the borrowed drum using his fingers. “If I can outdrum you, you have to change my friends back.”
“And if I win?”
He glanced sideways at his transformed friends. He certainly didn’t want to suffer the same fate; they already made enough jokes about his big nose in the papers. Maybe some humor would help. He shrugged and said, “Then I guess I’ll finally be as handsome as me mates.”
Puck laughed again, but this time he didn’t sound so mean. “You have spirit, mortal. Very well, I accept.” He snapped his fingers, and a musician handed over his drum. “But as the challenged one, I get to play first.”
He bent his head and tapped out a complex beat, one meant for wild dancing by a bonfire. Ringo listened closely to his rival. He wasn’t bad, but he overplayed his part. He’d never make a good band member; he was the kind of player who’d hog the spotlight even if it ruined the balance of the song. But he was good enough for a solo performance; at least, the other members of the Faerie Court seemed to think so. They clapped and shouted encouragement. A couple of them even broke into a wild leaping dance.
Puck finished with a wild flourish and a huge grin on his face, tossing the drum in the air. Everyone applauded except for Ringo, his mates, their birds, and the queen. It was going to be difficult to win the crowd over after that performance.
“Your turn,” Puck said. His eyes gleamed as if he already saw victory.
Ringo claimed the discarded drum and set it next to the one he already had. He glanced around for drumsticks, but the Faerie musicians didn’t have any. He’d just have to use his hands, then. He examined the crowd, trying to figure out what song would please them most. They stared back at him in return with stony expressions on their faces. When was the last time he’d had to face such a hostile crowd, Hamburg? Just pretend you’re back with the Hurricanes and it’s Starr Time. He winced at the memory. He’d never been one for drum solos, but he had to do one now for his mates.
“Come on, Ring!” George said encouragingly. “Mach Schau!”
He took a deep breath, tapped out a few bars, and started to sing, “I wanna be your man….” Without a guitar part to help him find the right key, he hit the wrong note on “man.” The onlookers laughed in derision.
“You can do it better than that!” Paul said.
“Yeah, I know.” He tried it again, but now the crowd was making him nervous, and he flubbed the beat. Puck cackled and stuck his fingers over his head, waving them like the donkey ears Ringo expected to sprout any minute now.
“Well, what did you expect?” he said as Paul glared at him. “There’s no melody in the drums; it’s like looking for the rhythm in your guitars.”
“Guitars,” John said thoughtfully. He glanced at the rest of the musicians, then at Paul and George, who nodded. They’d been together for so long they didn’t need to say anything else. As one, the three of them pounced on the rest of the musicians and relieved three of them of their pear-shaped guitars.
“This contest is between me and him,” Puck protested as they experimented with their new instruments.
John didn’t even look up. “We’re a band.”
“We’re brothers,” Paul said, “we’re stronger together than apart.”
“Besides, we’re a bit interested in the outcome,” George added. “So we want Ringo to be at his best.”
Puck turned to the queen. “My queen, you heard the rules this mortal himself proposed….”
It was her turn to smile coldly and say, “This change does not displease me.”
He scowled and backed away from Ringo.
John, Paul, and George automatically stepped into their customary concert formation, with John on Ringo’s left and Paul and George on the right. John counted them in, and they all played the introduction to “I Wanna Be Your Man.” The sound was thinner and much softer than what they got with their regular instruments, but at least the song was complete. And this time when Ringo sang, he sang in tune and with the same sheer joy he always found when the four of them played.
The song ended too quickly; without a word, they continued with one of their film songs, “If I Fell.” They did several more in succession: “Till There Was You,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “She Loves You,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” and “Roll Over Beethoven.” Ringo bobbed his head in time with the music, George did a few dance steps, and Paul and John threw in odd impromptu vocals. John finished the set with “Twist and Shout,” stamping on the floor to make up for the medieval tone of their strange instruments. As the other three drew out the final notes, Ringo finally looked at them. The shock nearly made him lose the beat.
John, Paul, and George were back to their old selves. Their girls for the night rushed them, planting kisses on their cheeks. One by one, John, Paul, and George released their instruments, felt their faces in wonderment, then clasped the girls to return their kisses.
“So, we won, then?” Ringo asked Peaseblossom as she came to him. He hadn’t expected Puck to concede so readily.
“Aye, Ringo.” Her eyes shone with delight. “I didn’t expect you’d be able to undo his prank with your music.”
“You mean, he didn’t change them back?”
“No, my good man.” Puck sounded friendly as he approached, but Ringo still watched him warily. “Your music has more power than I ever would have guessed. But all I intended was to test you and your friends; I would have restored them to themselves before they left our home. And I daresay the Queen’s handmaidens shall make amends for me.” He extended his hands. “Do you pardon?”
“How do I know this isn’t another trick?”
“Do you call me a liar?” Puck countered, his voice suddenly dangerous.
“Best to accept his apology,” Peaseblossom whispered to Ringo. “If you don’t, he’ll really be angry, and when he’s angry….”
He didn’t want to know how much worse Puck could become when he was angry. So he smiled and said, “If the others can forgive you, I certainly can.”
Puck went to each of the others in turn, taking their hands. John initially held back, but finally he too gave in.
“What’s your mother’s name?” Puck asked him.
“Julia. Julia Stanley Lennon.”
“Hum…” He pondered for a moment before shrugging. “I may have known a woman in your line several generations back, but I can’t be sure anymore. The sport’s all done here, so I’ll seek it elsewhere.”
Just like that, he vanished. Ringo gaped in astonishment, but Peaseblossom grasped his hands and tugged him into a secluded nook before he could ask her any questions.
“You play the drums very well,” she said, looking up at him with starry lavender-blue eyes.
He shrugged. “It’s what I do.”
“What else can you do? Know you aught of country matters?”
“No, I grew up in the Dingle, in the heart of Liverpool.”
She shook her head. “I mean like this.” She stretched up to kiss him; he automatically put his arms around her.
Following Peaseblossom’s gestured desires, Ringo translated between his Liverpudlian dialect and her archaic one to a wordless language both of them completely understood.
“Peaseblossom?” With his eyes still shut, Ringo groped for her. “Peaseblossom?”
He still couldn’t find her, so he sat up and opened his eyes. Then he rubbed them to make sure they weren’t deceiving him.
The solemn forest they’d entered last night was gone; so was the club they’d originally walked into. He was lying naked on the floor of a deserted cloth shop. Dusty bolts of fabric formed his bed; several more stacked a few feet high gave him a bit of privacy. He wasn’t completely alone; he heard his mates waking up in different corners of the shop. But the only trace of Peaseblossom was a few small footprints in the dust, and they disappeared before reaching the door.
She’s gone back to her forest, and I’ll never see her again. Ringo felt only a brief pang at the thought. She was a lovely creature who’d wanted him for him, not for being a Beatle, but their worlds were so different it never would have worked out, especially if she really was as long-lived as she claimed to be. He wondered if she would remember him after Beatlemania faded – or if anyone would, for that matter.
He slowly got dressed. As he buttoned his shirt, something fell out of his hair. It was the flower she’d given him, still intact despite his having slept on it all night. Ringo smiled as he tucked it into a pocket. If it lasted, at least he’d have something to remember her by.
Feeling stiff from sleeping on the floor, he met the others at the shop entrance. They too looked disheveled, and no one seemed willing to look at any of the others. Paul ran his hand nervously over his face, flinching as he encountered stubble, then looking relieved as he touched his nose and ears.
When it became obvious no one wanted to say something, Ringo said, “I had a strange dream last night. We were at this club in a forest, and there was this odd bartender….”
“It wasn’t a dream,” John said in a strangled voice.
“Does that mean we’re really part … whatever they are?” George asked.
“Better that than part ass,” John muttered.
“Yeah, well, you’re a complete ass sometimes.”
George glanced around at the rest of the shop, his hands in his pockets. “I wonder if we can find them again. Moth is almost as pretty as Patti in her way….”
“Patti…the film! Shit!” Paul glanced at his watch. “Aren’t we supposed to redo some of the lines this morning before the rehearsal for that telly show? We’d better go change!”
As one, they bolted out of the deserted store and for their car with the snoring driver.
“Now, I think the Beatles need to do some sort of funny sketch, and since they’re performing “in the round” like Shakespeare’s company used to do, I looked to the Bard himself for a suitable scene….”
Ringo let the director’s words flow in one ear and out the other. He hadn’t had to re-record as many lines this morning as the others had had to, so he’d had some time to ponder what had happened to all of them last night, and the more he thought about it, the more it disturbed him. Me mates, they’re not human, not completely. He glanced at them; John and George, looking bored, and Paul, smiling charmingly at the director as if he thought his smile would convince her to give him the best part. Maybe they owed some of their charm and good looks to the Faerie Court, or maybe not. It didn’t matter; their unusual background was yet another thing separating him from them.
“And when Bottom wanders off, Puck gives him a donkey’s head….” the director continued.
“No!” “Not that!” “I won’t do it!” John, Paul, and George said all at once.
Oh, so that’s where Puck got that idea. Ringo chuckled quietly at the memory of his transformed friends. It had been funny seeing them like that….
“Well, maybe Ringo could play Bottom,” the director said, looking at him.
He stopped chuckling. It wasn’t so funny when he’d be the one playing the ass.
John leaned forward. “No, he’s not doing it.” He spoke in his I’m-not-changing-my-mind voice. “None of us are going to make fools out of ourselves like that.”
Paul and George nodded in support, making Ringo feel better. He supposed none of them wanted to be reminded of last night’s incident, even indirectly.
The director looked taken aback, but she continued, “Well, there’s another scene later on, where a group of bad actors put on a play. I think that one would be a lot of fun. Only thing is, one of you will have to dress up as a girl.”
“A-ha!” John fluttered his eyelashes at Paul. “Sounds like a job for pretty Paulie here.”
“No, it’d be better if you did it, John.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
As John and Paul bantered, George leaned back in his chair and winked at Ringo, who simply grinned back. It was good to know that despite any differences they had, they were still there for each other when it counted. The Blood might be thicker than water, but friendship was thicker than The Blood.
Copyright 2003 Sandra M. Ulbrich