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The Untold Story of Eleanor Rigby
The pigeons were always fed by rice. Not pieces of bread, but grains of white rice. The cooing black birds didn’t seem to mind much, but Paul always seemed to find it strange. On the other hand, Paul always found that same elderly lady, who always sat at that bench alone at the stroke of noon and left by sunset, a little strange. It was about six continual hours of simply sitting and feeding. It six constant hours of sheer silence, with the exception of the flapping wings of hungry pigeons and the crashing of misty waves. For the young Paul McCartney, it was around two hours of figuring out who this interesting old lady was.
The sky, that particular Sunday afternoon, was the color of cement. The blackbirds flying overhead were paint, splattered across the sky and faded off into a horizon of light gray. Everything in Liverpool seemed to be stricken in a black, white, and gray color scheme, as if it were photographs lost in time. Paul memorized the sight from Albert Dock; the piercingly white and gray sky with blackbirds, along with an ocean of a blackish blue. Liverpool was colorless, with the exception of one woman clothed in maroon and loneliness at the corner of his eye.
Curiosity led him to the bench facing the ocean, and the spur of moment forced him to speak. “Why rice?” asked the young lad, “Because I thought most people fed the birds with bread.”
A look of surprise overtook those piercing eyes of dark green. “Rice,” she started, “symbolizes prosperity and luck. I would think that anyone would rather eat prosperity and luck compared to white bread. I also happen to pass by a wedding everyday coincidentally, and weddings waste a lot of rice.”
Paul nodded looking down, mentally questioning why he approached her.
“Please, sit. What’s your name, lad?”
“Paul, Ma’am, Paul McCartney. Yours?” he answered sitting beside her.
“Eleanor Rigby. Is that a violin you’ve got there?”
He looked at his violin that he’s been attempting to master. “Yes, Ma’am, I’ve been trying to learn recently. Do you know how to play?”
She smiled, with a touch of melancholy in her emerald eyes. “Yes, Paul, I do. I even made a meager living out of it.” She took the violin from his hands and played a mournful, beautiful tune. It was the type of music that transformed your world and sent you into a time and space completely unknown, to feel things not yet experienced. He smiled at the wonderful music, surprised utterly by this mysterious old woman. She also smiled at his apparent enjoyment and continued, “It was an old passion. Seeing you hold it was like seeing an old love. The giving up the violin was one of the many things I haven’t gotten over.”
“Why did you give up?” asked Paul.
“For the reason most people give up things, leave their town, end up like a lonely couch such as myself. Why people run away, leave without any intention to come back.” She paused and looked at him, waiting for him to answer.
Her lips barely arched into a painful smile. “Correct. Ironically, the young man who caused me to give up was one of my most loyal listeners. He wasn’t the most charming though, sometimes I forget why I had ever fallen for him, ” she paused in a moment of reminisce and grinned lightly, “His name was….oh, dear what was his name…James. James Mackenzie, that’s right! He was the son of that…that priest Father Thomas Mackenzie.”
“What was James like?”
“He was often very lost. Impassioned, imprisoned, but full of potential to do world-changing works. He was a poet, with a fantastic way of words. On the outside, James is awkward and stutters frequently, but on paper… he was unstoppable. I remember when we first met. He passed me by unknowingly and noticed the music. Everyday, after that, James was sitting underneath the lamp post for a couple hours a day for weeks. On perhaps the ninth or tenth day I approached him on a whim. Ha ha, we talked until dawn that night.”
“Until dawn? Eleanor, what in God’s name did you talk about?”
She chuckled and answered, “Honestly, lad, I forgot what on earth we conversed about. From what I remember, it was about life, and the big city. Music, poetry, art, the future, our childhoods. I told him about my convicted father, how I woke up everyday being judged and ridiculed for my past and the past of my parents. But God’s judgment was the only one that mattered. He was the only one who loved and accepted us for who were our entire lives. It was one of those conversations that you simply cannot forget, the ones that are about nothing and everything all at the same time. But somehow, somewhere in our conversation, it would always go back to his father. For some odd reason he’d always include the detail how he would darn every night when
there is nobody there. Father Mackenzie was terribly in love with his wife, James’ Mother. He was absolutely devastated by her sudden death, and was so torn apart after that. No one could comfort him, not his son or his flock, not even the power of God. In my opinion it is because Mackenzie never let anyone in.”
“Even God? Doesn’t sound like a typical pastor.”
“He wasn’t. His congregation hated him utterly, and let it show. He was a caring and simple man, but they would criticize him for the meekest of details, nothing could ever please them. He would spend nights writing sermons about morals he soundly believed in, but never revealed them because he feared his church. The burdens they heavily placed on Mackenzie’s shoulders eventually cost the spirituality of James. He lost his interest in Christ for the longest of time, and discarded the religion into the wastebasket of his life. I dedicated everyday to help restore his faith, and I believe I succeeded for that short period time after I was gone from his life. “
“You fell in love with him, didn’t you?” asked Paul. Eleanor smiled, arched her mouth in that same lachrymose way.
“Yes, I fell ardently in love. I fell against my better judgment, despite the logic and reason opposing the emotions. Nevertheless, I did feel that yearning for his happiness and well being as most people do in love. It is phenomenal really, what the constant presence and words from someone could do to you. It leaves me wondering, what really triggered my fall. But, well, that isn’t very important. What is rather significant is that he loved me too.”
“How do you know?”
“Well, the proposal convinced me well. Perhaps a year or so dating, he revealed to me the multitudes of poems he’d written about me. It was astonishing, and the last one was about how he felt like he was wearing a mask. How he was…hiding so much from the world, how he feels as if he is alone in his thoughts and discretion. How his dreams were so different than those around him, that he felt so separated from the world. Then he found someone else wearing the same mask or something like that. His loneliness evaporated. He presented me with an exquisite emerald masquerade mask, and asked me to marry him.”
Paul pondered this and said, “So…he gave you a fake face, in place of a ring?”
“Correct, little Paul,” she remarked sarcastically, “His dad did not like that fact that I was a street violinist, so he couldn’t get the money to buy one. Besides, I liked the mask just as much. So, as you may have presumed, his father was not exactly enthusiastic about his new daughter-in-law. In fact, he blatantly tore it apart. He raved continuously “What would the church think? A girl of no rank, her father being a criminal, playing the violin for a living?” He, and really the judgment of the congregation, forbade it. Those words scared me, the thought of losing James forever was more frightening than I could describe. As most lovers do, we decided to elope to Liverpool. It was stupid, not thought out, but perfect.”
Paul gulped, left at a cliff of suspense. He mentally prepared for the worst, for what tragedy could have happened to this powerful, broken, and lonely woman. “What happened next?”
She was quiet for at least a minute, letting the crashing waves resound for a moment.
“He was going to meet me where I normally performed. I wore the mask he gave, and waited from midnight to dawn that night. I returned late morning, afternoon, and evening once again. He never came.”
The shortness of her sentences hinted her despair. The simplicity and the easy way of speaking these difficult sentences is perhaps one of the greatest oxymoron Paul had encountered (besides love). The world fell into a trembling silence, and he felt the anguish, the pain, the devastation Eleanor must have felt. Not the entire heartbreak, but a small sample of it. “Eleanor…” started Paul,” I am so-“
“I never dared go to his house. His father banished me from all connections of him, and I never heard of him again,” said Eleanor as tears began to stream down, “Eventually, I learned about his death that happened the night we planned to elope. I lost him…in a car accident when he was just about to meet me there. He didn’t noticed that the lights had changed. Paul, losing someone you love is one of the hardest things a human has to survive. Being confused as to why you lost that person is even scarier. The news of his death never reached to me until maybe seventeen years later. By then, I was an older woman. I gave up the violin, and became a mere scullery maid. I spent most of my life alone on this bench, watching as the days go by and dreaming of James as the nights die. Sometimes, I even catch myself wearing the mystical mask of emerald green. I’d stare out of my window by the door, just waiting. For someone or something, I am not quite of what. For the ghost of a lost lover, or for the apology from the people who kept us apart. For someone to save me from the loneliness that was devouring me alive.”
Paul examined the crashing waves, feeling the salty sea mist kiss the bench. He closed his eyes and imagined a young Eleanor Rigby, with no other words to describe her but lonely.
“Loneliness is much more than the absence of another person. It is the presence of people buzzing around you, conversation after conversation, painted smiles and soundless laughter surrounding you. But you still can feel no other soul but your own. Lonely people are only the mere ruins of broken hearts.”
“All the lonely people,” Paul remarked.
“Where do we all belong?” whispered Eleanor Rigby.
A young Paul McCartney stared achingly at the black and white keys in front of him. The soft and caring voice of an elderly woman, heartbroken and alone, haunted him. Her words astounded him; her story was like a resounding gong in his heart. The smoke from a dying cigarette loomed around him like the salty sea mist that Sunday afternoon. Paul closed his eyes, imagining a young Eleanor Rigby playing the violin on the London streets. He pictured her striking emerald eyes and her coffee brown curly locks. Yes, it all seemed so right. A lamp post was standing in a short distance, with a scrawny boy sitting underneath, with a small poetry book in hand and a heart on his sleeve. He recalled the wistful notes that cried from the violin when she played.
A minuscule beam of inspiration shone at the back of his mind. He hummed the sweet tunes and recorded it on the sheet music in front of him. Then more, more, he added more unto this beautiful battle cry of loneliness. He played the notes on the piano, and thought about the newspaper he read in the morning.
Eleanor Rigby, in fact, died inside of a church and was buried the same week. Not a soul was present, except the priest who buried her, Father Mackenzie. “No one was saved,” read the newspaper.
A tear escaped his eyelid, and Paul repeated the same notes on the piano. He softly sang, “Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice from a church where a wedding has been…lives in a dream…”