I Could Have Saved John Denver by Berendsje Westra

The sun is low, this autumn morning in the Monterey Peninsula. Songbirds twitter in swaying treetops as our eyes meet for the first time. He’s wearing a blue and white gingham shirt, jeans and tan cowboy boots.

“Can I help you?” he says in a gentle tone.

I tell him I’m from London, but then I hesitate and just stand there, fidgeting with my fingers; looking past his slim frame at the swirling shapes on the marble wall in his hall.

In the distance, ocean waves rumble as they crash onto the shore, urging me to take the next step. I’m having second thoughts though. All week I’ve envisaged coming here and talking to him, but now I’m not so sure. What if I’m wrong?

“Do you want an autograph?” He sounds a little doubtful and when I answer his question with a forthright ‘No, thank you’ his eyes cloud over and a look of caution sets on his face.

I hope he doesn’t think I’m a groupie. I certainly don’t look like one. I never wear skirts above the knee and my chest is flat. But I’m okay with that. I’m here for something important. I am here to save his life.

A cool ocean breeze brushes against my bare arms and I take a small step forward, which makes him frown. “Alright,” I say, “this is why I’m here. I had a dream, about a week ago. I dreamt that I walked past West Kensington station on North End Road. I live in that street by the way; above a pub called The Seven Stars.”

He looks at me wearily and leans his body against the doorpost.

“Anyway,” I continue, wiping my sweaty palms on my hips. “When I passed the station, I noticed an Evening Standard billboard poster next to the entrance. On it was a headline that said: John Denver Dies in Plane Crash.”

John pulls away from the doorpost, crosses his arms and stares at me and I bite my lower lip; tasting salt, wishing I was done here; only I’m not.

“But here’s the thing,” I say. “When I woke up, it didn’t really feel like waking up. It felt as if I had just returned from somewhere. And, it wasn’t really like a dream. It was more like I’d actually witnessed it.”

We’re both silent while the songbirds twitter, perched high in swaying treetops. They want him to listen but he doesn’t understand.

I shiver, because the wind has picked up; blowing tiny grains of sand against my bare legs that scratch my skin, but I don’t know what else to say to him.

“Look,” John says, starting to close the door. “I think you should go. I’m in the middle of rehearsals for a gig I have tomorrow and—”

“Yeah, I know. In Corpus Christi, right?”

“Right.’ He hesitates. ‘Do you have a ticket?”

“I haven’t.”

“Do you want one?” He gazes at me coolly.

“No.” I say. “That’s nice of you, but I have to go back home. I just came here… for this really.”

John’s eyes bore into me. He must think I’m a fruitcake and I can’t blame him.

“I think you should leave,” he says.

I nod, murmur an apology and turn on my heel.

I knew it would go like this. That’s why I didn’t do it. I never do it. I let the songbirds fall silent.

Berendsje Westra is an exophonic writer from the Netherlands. She's the author of the women's fiction novel Coffee Spills & Songs and has an MA in Creative Writing from the Manchester Writing School.