By Darrell Petska
Elinor Higby made the sign of the cross and rushed from St. Pat’s to Studio 50. She already wore her name badge, which ought to have read “servant” instead of “Make-Up,” but it didn’t matter: The Beatles had arrived for the Ed Sullivan Show!
Elinor navigated the back-stage chaos—activity unlike ever before. Everyone moved with purpose, eyes wide. Before she could reach her nominal home, her bosses—everyone seemed her boss—noticed her and immediately put her to work: take this, bring that, hurry! Elinor’s heart sped like the minutes flying by. The Beatles! Had she been younger, she too might have screamed in adoration.
Outside the studio, police wrangled the horde assembled for the performance. Inside, Elinor breathed the rarefied air as she delivered flowers, conveyed messages, fetched and carried.
An hour before showtime, she heard a rumor: George Harrison had strep throat. At 7:30, a man she didn’t know caught her elbow and thrust a pitcher at her. “They need water! Quick! Now it’s John’s throat, for god’s sake!”
“Right away,” said Elinor, watching the man pointing frantically at the sanctum where the Beatles awaited the curtain.
She rushed to a break room, filled the pitcher, grabbed a tray, glasses and napkins, and headed back, dodging bodies endangering her mission.
The audience packing the auditorium screamed and chanted. A voice over the PA system appealed for calm. Elinor felt anything but calm as she reached her destination.
Hands clutching her load, Elinor tapped the door with her shoe. Her heart thumped as she waited.
The door handle turned. She caught a glimpse of Ringo, George—
“Yes, love?” John himself had opened the door!
“I…I brought water. You needed water…” She didn’t recognize her own voice.
“Thank you! Bloody weather. First George, now me. Please, set it there.”
She placed the tray on a table, smiling nervously as she soaked in the scene— Ringo tapping the air with imaginary drum sticks, Paul pacing at the back of the room, and George, before a mirror, testing his voice: “yeah, yeah, yeah.” They never gave her a glance. Feeling like an intruder, she turned toward the door.
John gently touched her arm. “Just one moment.” He spun around and called “Pen? Pen anyone?” The man who had demanded Elinor bring water ran over with a pen. John grabbed a napkin. “What’s your name, love?”
She could hardly speak. “Ellie. Elinor, actually. Elinor Higby.”
John paused thoughtfully, then smiled. “A beautiful name.” He wrote on the napkin, placed it in her hand, and escorted her to the door.
Elinor stood trembling in the hallway. Her limbs tingled. He had written, “To Eleanor, 9 Feb 64…Love, John.”
How that napkin would shine in her dim rental! That he’d misspelled her name didn’t matter at all.
“Ellie, why are you standing here? Get this to Ed, now!”
Half in a daze, Elinor Higby clasped the note pushed at her and hurried off to do as she’d been told.
Darrell Petska’s fiction has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Flash Frontier, Bird’s Thumb, Right Hand Pointing, and elsewhere (see conservancies.wordpress.com). Darrell has tallied a third of a century as a university editor, 40 years as a father (seven years a grandfather), and a half century as a husband. He lives near Madison, Wisconsin.