by Linda Ferguson
I’d been on a John Lennon kick, reading library books about his growing-up years with Aunt Mimi and re-watching A Hard Day’s Night, when I also became fascinated by Yoko Ono, with her shield-like sunglasses and her small, close-lipped smile.
She was an avant-garde artist who antagonized music lovers and critics alike with her songs full of screeching and other animal sounds, and of course many people saw her as the killjoy who broke up the Beatles – the one who stole John from that sweet-faced Paul and the other boys in the band. Even 30 years after her husband’s murder, the Internet was still abuzz with bitter postings (many racist) about Yoko, citing her scheming greed, despite her fundraising for charities and her decades devoted to peace activism. Scrolling through lists of online comments, I was stunned by the lack of compassion shown to a woman who’d lost so much – a husband and creative partner and the father of her young son – through an act of violence.
Forget the out-there art (such as the performance where she sat while audience members took turns cutting away her clothes with a pair of scissors) or her reputation for being a manipulative wife. Forget that Yoko’s image gave the impression that she was more self-contained than many celebrities, more focused on her career and speaking her mind than on attempting to charm anyone, let alone the public. Whatever the truth was behind all of the negative publicity, how could her detractors not understand that she was still a human being, a person with an interior life?
It was in this mindset that an idea – maybe the first line of a story? – suddenly sprang in my head one evening. It was getting late, and I needed to start dinner, but I had to scribble down the idea before it was gone for good. And so I wrote the sentence, “People forget that she was once a little girl, that she had parents and a nubby giraffe she always clutched in her small hand.”
From that point on, the story wrote itself. Resuming my work after dinner, I let the rest of the piece unwind from the spool buried in my unconscious mind. “The People v. Hiroko Uno,” which was later published by Imitation Fruit, is about the Japanese widow of a murdered music icon. In the story, the titular character still lives in the white apartment she shared with her husband two decades before, and she’s still reviled by his fans.
All of this, of course, comes straight from Yoko Ono’s life. But the subtitle of the piece is “A Work of the Imagination,” and I filled out the sketchy facts about Yoko with little details I imagined. Hiroko, for example, physically resembles a neighbor of mine, a woman named Marsha who has muscular arms and legs that are unlike the birdlike Yoko’s tiny limbs. Hiroko’s dark hair, too, is styled more like Marsha’s was at the time, an edgy look buzzed short with a longer white swoop in front. Now that I’d blended the two real women into a fictional character, I imagined a back story for her as well, picturing her as a child in Japan writing poems and as a widow who weeps when she sees her husband’s old movies and who shudders when she receives yet another piece of hate mail.
As the story moves along, the point of view changes from Hiroko’s thoughts to her grown son’s. (Again, this wasn’t a deliberate decision – my unconscious took this direction and my typing fingers followed it.) Chris, as I called the son, becomes annoyed with his mother at a costume party, while still craving her affection. She seems unmoved by his irritation, but in the final scene, she takes him upstairs and sits with him and combs his long dark hair until he begins to relax. Like Yoko Ono, I have a son, but Chris isn’t based on him or even on Sean Lennon; he’s an invention of mine that came from feelings I’ve experienced – namely, losing a father and forever seeking more proof of my mother’s approval, no matter how much she gives.
When Hiroko has finished combing Chris’s hair, she says they’d better get back to the party, and he agrees. The last line of the story reads, “The two of them could not stay upstairs forever.” As with all mothers, Hiroko has reached a moment when she must open her arms and let her son go. In this sense, the writing of “The People v. Hiroko Uno” became more than a means of self-expression or storytelling. In my imagination, it created a link between me and a woman I’ll never meet, a connection that feels as real as the sidewalks and curbs and trees that run along my street.
Linda Ferguson’s poetry, fiction and essays have been published in numerous journals, including VoiceCatcher, The Santa Fe Literary Review, The Milo Review and Gold Man Review. She’s won many awards for her poetry, received the Perceptions 2013 award for nonfiction and was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her story “Some Tigers.” She teaches creative writing for both adults and children. You can visit her blog at www.bylindaferguson.blogspot.com.