Tiny Beatles in My Head by Gary Ives

Tuesday, April 21, 2015
When a traumatised WWII soldier returns home to find his wife dead and his daughter taken away, he seeks solace in solitude; by Gary Ives.

Andrew Shellcross came back from the war a broken man. Three years of starvation and brutality as a prisoner of war, working in Japanese coal mines, had squeezed and reduced him to little more than a pitiful six stone entity that thought of little other than food and sleep. Returning to Moss Castle Village he was met not by his wife, but by the vicar who informed him of the sad news that his wife Angel had died one month earlier from burns suffered in the bombing of Coventry. Their baby daughter Claire was in the care of her Aunt Bess in Sheffield.

That was long ago and then Andrew wanted only solitude. He took the job as ferryman on the ferry servicing Little Saint Neots Isle twice daily and the lighthouse on Moss Castle Shoal once weekly. Keeping to himself, speaking to others only minimally, he preferred the margins and shadows of Moss Castle Shoal's light house. Villagers regarded Andrew as an odd duck, but knowing his misfortunes, empathized. When old Mister Quarrels, the light house keeper, died, Andrew applied for the job and subsequently, in 1947, moved there, achieving his lasting desire for solitude. Only then did his psyche begin to repair as he found satisfaction in the perfection of the lighthouse - such a simple, strong, and reliable structure. Occupying his time maintaining the lighthouse, tending his garden and fishing, he found the quietude soothing. The crackle of the wireless's weather reports and mariners' bulletins, the clanging of the buoys, or the sound of the fog horn seemed as natural to him as the squawking seagulls and terns. Twice a month he boarded his old ferry to make a supply run to the village and have a pint or two at the pub with the vicar.

Bess, after the death of her sister, wrote Andrew, maintaining that the best place for his daughter Claire was with her; and should Andrew not agree, Bess strongly implied she and her husband might take legal action, because weren't she and her husband better equipped to raise the child, what with her mister on the Council? Andrew, having never seen his daughter, felt no filial obligation, and accepted that Bess was probably right, even if she were a high-minded scold, the sort which he had little use for, mind you. So daughter Claire was a vague presence, rather like a distant sound in the fog.

Not until 1958 was Bess again heard from, this time writing Andrew to disavow any responsibility for Claire, now seventeen years old, who despite proper upbringing in a good, clean, Christian home had taken it upon herself to run off to Southampton with a coal black African! Was she to appear on the stoop someday, the door would certainly be slammed, yes it would! And you needn't bother yourself to reply.

Thus years later when Claire stepped off the ferry with her daughter Lisa wrapped in her arms, the solitude was shattered. Realization and acceptance of his responsibility, however, descended quickly but gently upon Andrew.

"Come in my dears, come in. Let yer old dad have a look. Oh my. Ya favor yer mum, ya do. Come in, we'll put the kettle on."

Claire's man, a Senegalese sailor, having signed on with a Greek tanker, departed Southampton one Christmas morning, abandoning her and the baby. Although she showed but little affection for her father, calling him Shelly rather than dad, Claire was helpful at the lighthouse, cooking, cleaning, and making the village runs for supplies. Baby Lisa, however, gravitated to her grandfather, and he to her, with true affection. Joy that had been forgotten long ago, sunken into the slurry pits in Honshu with the bodies of his mates, now faintly began to reappear with each tiny glimmer from little Lisa's smiles and clasping of his fingers with her miniature hands. Windows that had been shut for near fifty years opened. And deep within Andrew Shellcross the longing for solitude eased. He reckoned the tradeoff of solitude for love well worth the interruption.

One day while cleaning one of the Fresnel lenses, Claire fell from the lighthouse catwalk suffering a terrible head injury. In hospital, she began to experience bizarre hallucinations. Doctors advised that these episodes would diminish gradually, occurring further apart, eventually fading away completely. They didn't. Convalescing at home the hallucinations worsened, often inducing panic. She perceived ships running aground upon the Moss Castle Shoal, then corpses of drowned sailors washing ashore on the light house grounds.

"I can see them, Shelly, plain as day flounderin' out there in the icy water, callin' to me, 'Help me, Miss, please help a mother's son. Please Miss, I can't make it, ya gotta help me. Come on, give us yer hand, Miss, please fer God's sake.' But I can't help the poor blighters, Shelly. I can't do nothin'. It's like I'm frozen in place paralyzed, watchin' those poor lads go under."

Mr. Shellcross attempted to comfort his daughter. "Just yer bad dreams, Claire, yer nightmares is what they are. Don't let them upset ya, dear. Believe your old dad. Haven't I 'ad me share of wretched dreams? But ya know what? Come mornin' they vanish like the dew if ya just let 'em."

Andrew Shellcross reckoned Claire's dreams were the product of local history. And didn't all the old ones in the village know the story? It was December of 1849 when the collier J. LENNON with a crew of twelve had run aground on Moss Castle Shoal with the loss of all hands. But this he kept to himself.

"Oh it's easy fer you to say that these is only dreams, Shelly. But they ain't dreams. They're too real, like some bad fairy is come and transported me to this 'orrible disaster. These here, they're visions, they are, and they're real, dammit. No, I'll 'ave none of yer dreamin', it's real. It's drivin' me crazy, Shelly. Crazy, I tell ya."

In the end the dreams did drive poor Claire crazy. Late one winter night she took a tragic walk into the dark, cold Atlantic. As solitude had been Andrew's friend for the past years, now his old enemy tragedy had reappeared and would remain.

Not long after her mother's death, Lisa lost her sight when she and her friend Ben, digging for clams, uncovered a 40mm anti-aircraft projectile from WWII. While Ben went for an adult, the ordnance exploded, blinding the twelve year old girl, leaving her with half a scalp and a face terribly marred.

Thereafter because of the facial scarring, she did not attend school. Her grandfather knew that the company of children was fraught with potential for cruelty, so with the help of the vicar, Mr. Shellcross home-schooled Lisa. He reckoned that even had they lived in the village, Lisa's pitiful visage would condemn her to a lonely existence. Could she find refuge in solitude as he had done? A woman from Social Services had tried to convince Mr. Shellcross to enroll Lisa in a school for blind children in London, but neither he nor Lisa would have any of it. Like her grandfather, she had come to prefer the isolation of the lighthouse. "She don't need none of that, Miss. Out 'ere, Lisa's got her old granddad, there's 'er radio, 'er music, and the Blind Services Braille packages every month, and them audio books, what all. I'll venture you'll find 'er quite 'appy and content, I will."

"Won't you agree, Mr. Shellcross, Lisa would certainly benefit from the company of other children her own age?"

"No Miss. See 'ere, she's 'aff bald wif 'er poor face all chewed up like so, and was that not enough, her dad, well, her dad 'es a Black. And a scrub. Which when Lisa's mum was took sick with the croup didn't he cast off the two of 'em? Dumped 'em, he did and disappeared, the rogue. Mashed up face with a runaway black man for a da? No Miss, I know what kids is like, thank you all the same."

"Please consider it, Mr. Shellcross. Every child needs friends."

"And friends she's got. I'm her friend, ain't I? Little Ben, 'ees her friend, 'er same age, and don't 'ee come 'round at least a couple times a week wif his guitar. There's the vicar too wif 'er lessons. Quite enough for our Lisa is Ben, the Vicar and meself."

Lisa was fifteen when the strong visuals began. The images appeared in her head only when she was in her room on the second level of the lighthouse. Tiny Beatles, John, Paul, George and Ringo, appeared on her counterpane and sang to her. Most delightful was John's quirky way of personalizing each song. "Oy, now 'ere's The Things We Said Today, joost for you, Lisa." Each of the Beatles smiled but only John spoke; he spoke directly to her in that slow friendly Scouser-speak. "Now, didja like that song, loov, didja?" He spoke directly to her, she knew it. Oh but she loved the private performances of her very own tiny Beatles, who came to her bed, sang just to her, then as they sang the last song, always Help, the Tiny Beatles dissolved, smiling, into the ether. So stimulating were the visions, she usually recounted each Beatles visit to her granddad over her tea and boiled egg at breakfast. However she omitted telling of John speaking directly to her.

"They're dreams, pet, just vivid dreams, na more."

"You always say that! No it's too real, granddad. I can see. Actually see. It's like a fairy has sprinkled something in my eyes that lets me see for just a bit. It's too real to be dreams. No, granddad, it's not dreaming, it's really seeing and hearing. I know you don't think so, but it's real."

Lisa's accounts troubled Mr. Shellcross, though he hid his concern. There was the tragedy of her mother's death and the history. This prompted him to talk with the vicar who advised him to seek professional help. The similarities between Claire's and Lisa's reactions to their dreams had prompted Andrew to make an appointment with the child psychologist in St. Ives.

Andrew Shellcross clutched his granddaughter's hand as Dr. Mendelssohn explained the test results.

"First of all Lisa, Mr. Shellcross, this is nothing to cause any real concern. There are clearly no tumors or lesions. Everything looks absolutely normal. The hallucinations you've had, Lisa, are a phenomenon peculiar to the blind who were once sighted and, while not common, they're not rare either. It's called CBS, Charles Bonnet Syndrome. It's similar to the phantom pain that many amputees feel. The blind experiencing CBS frequently report "seeing" people or animals, often with accompanying auditory hallucinations. And what confirms this diagnosis for me is that Lisa's people are tiny. Tiny people, that's common in CBS. So Lisa's accounts fall right into place. She's seen The Beatles, tiny Beatles, singing on her pillow. Really, there's nothing here to be concerned about. I get the impression that Lisa has actually enjoyed these episodes... no, maybe enjoyed's not the right word, appreciated, that's it, seems to me she's appreciated seeing the Beatles' pillowcase performances. So unless there are signs of discomfort or obsession, I wouldn't worry. Lisa's a bright, healthy, and may I say, most perceptive young lady."

The doctor's mellow, convincing voice eased Shellcross's mind and the relief made the taxi ride from the pediatric psychologist's clinic pleasant. "Lisa, we'll stop at the chippy. We've an hour before the ferry. It's aw'right driver, ain't it, if we take our chips 'ere in the car? And your chips is on me, mate."

"Yes granddad, please. Tell me what does Dr. Mendelssohn look like? Is he fat?"

"He's quite fat, yes, and with a jolly red face rather like Father Christmas. Hair was once red, as best I could tell with what little there is of it. Ha. His eyes even twinkle. Hands - his hands are long and sensitive. Tell me your impression, dear."

"Umm fat but not ashamed of being fat like some. I like his voice and I like that he doesn't wear cologne like Dr. Osborne. I liked the way he talked to me as if I were a grown up. Yeah, granddad, he's okay."

Any trip away from the lighthouse was stressful for the girl. Though blind, she easily sensed being stared at and she loathed being an object of pity or curiosity or scorn. But she had done well on the trip to St. Ives. Dr. Mendelssohn's patter, she knew, had eased her granddad's mind. And how the two loved their fish and chips. She would have fun relating the events to her friend Ben the next day.

Months after the visit to Dr. Mendelssohn, the Tiny Beatles appeared late one December night. They sang for her Listen, Do You Want to Know a Secret then just after singing Help and before completely dissolving, John stepped forward, obviously troubled, shouting with alarm something indistinguishable. Only the word "revolver" was clear. Two days later John Lennon lay dead on a New York street shot by a revolver in the hands of a crazed fan.

Lisa shared the account of the prophetic dream only with Ben. She and Ben were fast friends but had drawn even closer after the blast. Inwardly he carried guilt for having left her alone on the beach with the unexploded shell while he ran for help. But he was a fast runner and Lisa had asked him to go for help. His father ran the ferry once piloted by her granddad. Twice a week Ben sailed or rowed his little skiff across the sound to visit and play guitar with Lisa.

"That's terrible, it is, Lisa. Just from the way yer speakin', I believe ya, and yer right, if ya tell yer graddand or anyone else for that matter, they ain't gonna believe ya. But I do. It's spooky, ain't it? Poor John Lennon, his very spirit comin' to you the night before all this. What's it mean? Huh?"

"I dunno, Ben. Wasn't any way for me to know, was there? I mean alls I could understand John sayin' was 'revolver.' But there was panic, there was, in his face, it was panic, Ben. John was tryin' to tell me that this terrible thing was comin', I know he was. That doctor up in St. Ives said these 'ere dreams with tiny folk was something that just happened to the blind, but he didn't say nothin' about predictions and such. You're the only person I can tell this to. Granddad, and I reckon anybody else, would count me daft, don't ya think?"

"It's like some show on the telly. Weird, that's what it is. Don't ya worry Lisa, I won't say nothin' to nobody. Will ya tell me if ya have any more of these, these visions?"

"I will. Sure. Now get out yer guitar; let's quit this spooky stuff, hey?"

Just weeks later, the Tiny Beatles made their final appearance. John, Paul, George and Ringo sang only one song, Here Comes the Sun, then dissolved never to reappear. The next morning Lisa screamed with joy as she saw, really saw the light of the sun through the lighthouse window.

"Granddad, I can see! I can see sunshine, I can see birds, I can see you. Oh granddad I can see again. I can see!

Lisa's sight had, in fact, returned, restoring joy to the lighthouse at Moss Castle Shoal. When her old grandfather applied for retirement, Lisa was appointed lighthouse keeper. Her friend Ben eventually attended seminary and ultimately replaced the old vicar when he retired. Their days were quiet and contented. Eventually solitude comes to us all, some earlier, some later.

Little darling
It's been a long, cold lonely winter
Little darling
It feels like years since it's been here

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun,
and I say, It's all right.


  1. A moving story sensitively told - even if it did breach the bounds of belief at times. Profound and poetic insights into the human condition surfaced. A very good read, thankyou,

  2. This is a good read. I enjoyed it. I liked that you kept Shelly and Claire's relationship real. It's hard to go from not having been raised by a father to calling him daddy all of a sudden. Thank you.

  3. I loved the idea for the story and the execution was good, but I felt somewhat cheated when you glossed over Him and Claire learning to live together and having to deal with adjusting to a new lifestyle. This could easily be extended to a novella if not a novel.

  4. The relatively happy ending surprised me after most of the story being about lives of quite desperation or worse.