Alan Davis
9 min readDec 8, 2023

— for John Lennon (9 October 1940–8 December 1980) and Jim Bense (17 June 1948–14 June 2007). This is the 43rd anniversary of Lennon’s death. Jim, a friend and colleague, came to my office more than once to tell me, passionately, how much he admired this story, which was first published in a literary journal and then in Rumors From the Lost World (New Rivers Press).

While Deb slept on her mother’s bed, Trevor climbed the stairs and listened past the ringing in his ears. Empty beds settled into floorboards and suspicious sounds scratched away at the night’s peace. It took him a minute to realize a whole family of raccoons lived in the crawlspace that tunneled alongside the upstairs hallway. They cried out in pleasure, ticking their claws over cardboard boxes filled with three decades of family artifacts. Trevor and Deb had given up their small expensive apartment in Chicago and moved to her mother’s house in the suburbs. Her mother lived in the Bahamas as a companion to a wealthier woman; she could afford to keep her house only if she didn’t live in it. But she was too attached to it to put it on the market. It was 1980, that kind of year for all three of them.

Downstairs in the high-beamed living room, Deb’s schoolgirl encyclopedia rested on an undusted mahogany shelf. Raccoons, it told Trevor, are so determined in their bandit way to endure that in man’s absence the earth might well become their domain. It frightened him a little — their garbage-can raids came like clockwork every night, and neither Deb nor Trevor was much good at fending them off. They had enough trouble just getting to work each day, arriving at the station seconds before the train pulled from the platform and joining thousands of other commuters on the express.

“The Humane Society can put traps around the yard,” he said the next day, leaning on the horn. They were caught on the expressway in rush-hour traffic after missing the train. “We should have waited for the next goddamn train.” He tapped the horn.

“That won’t do any good.”

“It won’t get us to the Loop any faster, but it might help my blood pressure.” He reached for a cigarette.

“By the way,” she said quietly, “I’m still waiting for my period. I was a little nauseous this morning.”

“They were at the window.” He massaged his chest, poking between the right ribs because something was sore. He tried to remember the seven warning signs of cancer.


“The raccoons, Deb. What are we talking about?”

“Look, get over in the right lane,” she said, drumming her briefcase. “You mind dropping me off? I’m late.”

“No, I don’t mind. I can be the one who spends an hour looking for a parking space, even though it’s your turn.”

“Just park underground. I’ll pay.”

A few days later, Deb’s pregnancy a fact of life, Trevor, with a grand flourish, threw away his pack of cigarettes as he stood on the wooden platform of the suburban station, where everyone was cloaked in the dull colors of freeze-dry vegetables.

“Good,” Deb said, rolling her eyes. She opened her mouth in a toothy parody of a scream.

The passengers, lost in their Wall Street Journals or Tribunes, were scoping out the day’s headlines. Trevor didn’t even bother to read over their shoulders. That December he always slung a mystery into his briefcase. He didn’t want to get any closer to reality than Robert Parker’s Spenser or Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe could take him, and Deb would just as soon read last year’s paper.

They glided past grain-storage elevators and high-power lines. The sky was the color of oily concrete. “About the raccoons,” he said. “What are we going to do?”

“Raccoons?” She squinted. With her pregnancy and his hypochondria, they lived half in the world and half in their fears, and their nonsequiturs were standard-issue.

“The cubs were at the window watching me read, on their hind legs, noses against the glass, tiny black buttons on their snouts. “

“To hell with raccoons,” she said. They were passing through an industrial belt near the city. “What are we going to do about this baby?” Beyond an endless file of Inland Steel freight cars and tree-lined tracks, long aisles of World War II vintage cottages and bungalows went to seed along with idle factories: Quonset huts of galvanized steel, some as long as football fields, and dark brick buildings with unpainted facades, rust-red smokestacks, and cracked windows. Jobs were going overseas.

The train braked to a noisy electric crawl at its downtown dock. Deb looked sick; everyone else, already angling for exits, ruffled paper, snapped shut briefcases, and wiggled into coats. They all pushed forward into the echoing chilliness of a concrete areaway. On the stairs, Deb clutched the metal rail so fiercely her fingers turned milky.

Inside the terminal, spongy with echoes, Trevor could taste fried eggs, dusty linoleum, and grease. Deb repeated her question. “It’s totally up to you,” he said. “You want the baby, fine. You don’t want it, fine.” Anyone can talk about anything in a city crowd with little fear of discovery, but he lowered his voice, raised his chin and glanced to either side. He tucked his briefcase under one arm and flexed his fingers, as though ready for a martial arts demonstration in the dingy corridor between Feski’s Donut Shop and the flower kiosk. “It’s up to you. You’re carrying it. You’re the one who won’t have so many options. How does that saying go? ‘A buggy in the hall is the enemy of freedom?’ “

“That’s real fair,” she said. “You ever hear of shared responsibility? It’s a brand-new concept.”

They pushed through a smudged glass door. “What’s not fair is for a man to tell a woman what to do in a situation like this.” At the end of a long concrete tunnel, full of candy wrappers and cigarette butts, escalators climbed to street level. A bearded man with a long stocking cap and cracked leather jacket blew on his saxophone, his head tilted into “Imagine,” the John Lennon song. It was a radio standard, but not the sort of thing that sounded great on sax, especially with concrete echoing its refrain. Deb stepped to one side and searched her big coat pocket among ticket stubs, bus transfers, breath mints and notes scribbled to herself until she found two quarters. She tossed them into the saxophonist’s instrument case. There was real money in it, lots of bills and a jumble of coins. People weren’t usually so generous, especially to a lone sax player, off-key even to Trevor’s untutored ears.

His music faded in the bustle of street-level noise. After a soggy glance and a perfunctory peck on the cheek, Deb crossed Randolph St. with the light. Trevor turned casually to the newspaper kiosk, nestled beneath the imposing Italian Renaissance design of the Chicago Public Library and Cultural Center, and saw the headline: JOHN LENNON SLAIN.

He bought the tabloid. Surrounded by the usual crowd of freaks, small-time hustlers, and derelicts waiting for the library to open, he read the story of the murder, absorbing every gruesome detail. Other bystanders, like him, were neatly attired, obviously on the way to an office in a tall building, but their eyes told the real story. Some of them didn’t live where they worked, or even where they lived, but in some staging area of the mind, making raids on the way things had turned out.

“Let’s have a moment of silence for poor John Lennon,” Trevor said at the office, holding up the paper. Everyone looked askance, a little embarrassed. “To tell you the truth,” one senior copywriter said, “I didn’t even know that guy was still around.” “Yeah,” Trevor mumbled, “he was still around.” Though they mostly gathered dust, Trevor owned every album Lennon had made after the Beatles broke up, so he had lunch with Tom Hogan, a closet socialist with thinning hair. They stood at Berghoff’s polished mahogany counter, munching on sausages and drinking beer. “You know, I subscribe to Playboy — mostly for the interviews,” Hogan said between bites of sausage. “So I knew Lennon was back. I read the interview there.”

They speculated on his years of silence. “He was a househusband,” Tom said. “He brought up his son.” Trevor told him about Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “I’d put the speakers loud and lie there on my parents’ bedspread, one of those tufted chenille things. I was waiting for enlightenment.” He grunted when Tom grinned. “I ended up losing a little hearing. My left ear rings all the time now.”

Tom adjusted his glasses. “I didn’t pay that much attention. Folk music was my thing. I’d sit in Earl’s in New Town or drive to New York and camp in the Village. Everybody screamed over the Beatles, I listened to Dylan, Ray and Glover, Paxton, Phil Ochs.” He took a sip of beer and wiped a smidgen of mustard from his lip. “Then Lennon got political. I paid attention to that.” He adjusted his glasses again. “I’ve got to say, though, even if the timing’s wrong, that he was never a socialist. Not really.”

That afternoon Deb was exhausted, her hair lank. Until they reached their stop, Trevor buried himself in the papers, hypnotized by the murder, reciting details. She waved him off, a little breathless. “Who wants to hear it? Here one minute, gone the next. Some guy decides to do you in, and that’s it.” She was still shaking her head when they queued up to leave the train. “Whatever happens doesn’t matter, until something happens you can’t change. Then you spend your life regretting.”

“Are we still talking about Lennon?”

“Who knows?” she said, biting a nail.

They had the abortion. They walked into a low-slung building with bars on the windows and she did it. Afterwards, Trevor lay on her mother’s mattress, his hands behind his head, and thought of things to say, but he never said them. Deb’s regret was for the family they decided against; he regretted the need to decide in the first place, but she was so distraught he finally promised her they would get pregnant again soon.

He also became obsessed with the raccoons. He was a zealot. They had to go. Someone told him they hated loud music, so he positioned their big speakers at either end of the crawl space and blasted guitar riffs into it: the Stones, the Dead, Led Zeppelin, Ten Years After, Jimi Hendrix, even The Beatles and Bob Dylan. When that didn’t work, he called the outfit the Humane Society recommended and they filled the yard with cages. The cages trapped a possum, a rabbit, and one large male raccoon.

Trevor followed the Lennon story in the dailies, the newsweeklies, the rock magazines, and even supermarket tabloids. One printed a photo of Lennon’s pale face in the morgue, hair combed back, features at rest. The thing played itself out, finally fading even from the back pages, but sometimes Trevor dreamed about him, and when it snowed played Lennon’s last album, Double Fantasy, and stared from the window.

Then they caught one of the babies. All night it yelped plaintively in the cage near their bedroom window, and at dawn he went out with a long stick. Above him, the mother hissed, coiled on the largest limb of an oak, and Deb stared from the window, still in her post-abortion funk. With the stick, he poked the cage door until it sprung open and the baby darted into a tunnel under their bedroom. The mother, still ferocious, backed in after it. The whole family set up housekeeping there.

In Trevor’s dreams, Lennon’s murder was a mistake. He had a new album out and went on tour, loose-limbed in a t-shirt and jeans, baking bread between sets. His wife and child on stage with him, he sang a new song, a rousing anthem of freedom whose dream lyrics echoed through the concert hall. But something happened in the middle of the last chorus. His voice lost its vigor and settled like silt into river deeps. Maybe it was the bright lights, maybe the way Trevor’s eyes blinked and blurred, but Lennon’s features dissolved into silly putty, melting in bright indoor heat, and when they came into focus again, Trevor recognized himself on stage, and woke a little nauseous, a little angry. He threw water on his face and stared into his own eyes, trying to remember the lyrics to the dream anthem, thinking maybe he could find a way to record it, but the words were trapped on the tip of his tongue like the name of someone he knew a long time ago, maybe even cared about, might have loved if given the chance, but couldn’t remember to save his life.