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The theme was "Waiting". We were just given the word, with no clue as to how we might proceed. I turned the word over and over in my head, but I got nowhere. Eventually I got a faint glimmering of an idea, but I didn't have any clue as to where it might be going. So I decided just to write the story and see what happened. Unfortunately absolutely nothing happened and I came to a complete stop.

Putting a structure on to the idea was very, very hard. Eventually, after several complete re-writes, I got something that I liked. But it was a struggle. It took me more than six days to beat this story into shape -- normally I get the homework done in just two or three days. Perhaps that gives you some idea of just how hard I found it. But I really like what I finally ended up with.

The Waiting Room

If I have any faults, which I do not, my worst fault is that I am always on time for appointments. However other people often seem to find punctuality to be an elusive concept, and so I wasn’t very surprised to find that there was no sign of Derek when I arrived at the pub. Derek’s personality consists mostly of faults, one of which is that he is invariably late for everything. Fortunately I had lied to him about the starting time, so even though he was late, I knew that we would still arrive on time at The Waiting Room. Also I had come prepared to wait for him. I bought myself a pint of beer, sat down at an unoccupied table, took my ebook reader out of my pocket and immersed myself in the novel that was currently enthralling me.

"Sorry I kept you waiting," said Derek some time later.

I looked up from my book. "That’s all right," I said. I gestured at my ebook reader. "I wasn’t sure what time you’d arrive so I brought 8,000 books with me..."

Derek’s other major fault is that he likes to play the game of one-upmanship. He rummaged around in his back pack and produced an ebook reader of his own. "I brought 10,000 books with me," he said smugly.

I treated that with the kind of silence known as contemptuous. "Come on," I said, draining the dregs of my pint. "Let’s go. We don’t want to be late."

"Can’t I have a beer first?" asked Derek.

I checked my watch. "No," I said. "There isn’t time."

I had stumbled on The Waiting Room quite by accident. One evening, I was wandering idly around near the old, closed and abandoned railway station when I thought I heard the faint strains of a rock song from my youth. It sounded just like the Doors with Jim Morrison singing Light my Fire. I turned a corner and there, on the station platform, I saw that the old waiting room was pulsing with light and sound. Its name, The Waiting Room was spelled out in gaudy, flashing neon. Somebody had gone to a lot of trouble to refurbish the old building. It contrasted oddly with the decaying old railway structures that stood disintegrating on each side of it.

"Good evening, sir," said the bouncer. "You are just in time."

He opened the door with a flourish and gestured for me to enter…

Derek seemed quite surprised when we left the pub and I started to walk towards the old railway station. "What are we going this way for?" he asked. "There’s nothing down here worth seeing."

"Patience," I reassured him. "We’ll be there soon." We turned the corner and I enjoyed watching his jaw drop in amazement when he saw The Waiting Room for the first time.

"Where did that come from?" he asked.

I shrugged, and we walked up to the entrance. The bouncer remembered me and he held the door open for us. "It’s nice to see you again, sir," he said. "As always, you have shown impeccable timing."

The club was quite full, but nevertheless there were still some empty tables. "It doesn’t matter how many people are here," I said to Derek, "there are always plenty of empty tables to choose from." He looked bewildered.

We sat at a table with a good view of the stage. The band was still tuning up, but as we ordered our drinks, they got everything together and launched into their opening number:

Let me take you down

'Cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields

Nothing is real

And nothing to get hung about

Strawberry Fields forever

Derek listened critically. "They’re pretty good for a Beatles cover band," he said.

"They aren’t a cover band," I told him. "That’s the Beatles themselves up there on the stage."

"Don’t be ridiculous," he scoffed. "Two of the Beatles are dead and the other two are so ancient and wrinkled that they might as well be dead as well. None of those band members are any older than twenty five."

"Nevertheless," I insisted, "those really are the Beatles. That’s the magic of The Waiting Room. Look at the band more closely."

He stared at them for a while and slowly he started to convince himself that he really was seeing the Beatles. "Lennon sounds like he’s in fine form," he said.

"He is," I agreed. "And just wait until they sing some of the songs that Lennon and McCartney wrote together after John Lennon died. The tunes and the lyrics are just amazing."

Eventually Derek managed to accept that he really was listening to the Beatles. He sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the music. He even laughed at John Lennon’s excruciating jokes – death had made Lennon’s humour even more acerbic than it had been when he was alive.

"This is great," said Derek. "I’ve got to come here again."

"They only open on Friday evening at 6.00pm," I said. "Next week they’ve got Jimi Hendrix on the bill."

Derek’s eyes went wide. "My hero," he said. "I’ve got to be here for that."

"Well," I said, "you know where the place is."

Next Friday I went to see Jimi Hendrix. I looked for Derek, but he wasn’t there, which I thought was a bit strange, given how much he liked Jimi’s music. Death seemed to have agreed with Hendrix. His diction had improved beyond belief, and he no longer slurred the words of his songs.

...’scuse me while I kiss the sky

When I was young, along with everybody else, I’d always mis-heard that lyric as "..’scuse me while I kiss this guy". On balance, I think I preferred the mis-heard words. They gave the song a depth and an emphasis that Hendrix’s more modern, crisper and clearer singing voice took away again.

But his guitar still wailed better than it had ever done, shrieking and sobbing and weaving itself around and about his lyrics. At the end of the gig, true to form, he set the guitar on fire. The applause was deafening.

The next evening I bumped into Derek at the pub. He was reading something on his ebook reader. "I’ve got 12,000 books now," I told him.

He closed his ebook reader and looked up at me. "I’ve got 15,000," said automatically.

"You missed a great show on Friday at The Waiting Room," I said. "Hendrix was just superb. Where were you?"

"I couldn’t find the place," said Derek bitterly. "When I got to the station, all I could see was an old, deserted waiting room. The sign on the door dangled down, only just held in place by a single rusty screw. I went inside, but all I found was empty beer cans, used condoms and cobwebs. The place felt damp, and it smelled of mould. So I went home and played Electric Ladyland on the stereo instead."

"What time did you get there?" I asked.

"I don’t know," said Derek. "About 6.30. Maybe quarter to seven."

"That would explain it," I said. "I told you, they open at 6.00pm. If you get there after they open, you simply can’t get in. The place isn’t there any more after it opens, so you really have to be on time. Are you coming next week? They’ve got Janis Joplin."

An agony of indecision spread over Derek’s face. "I’d love to see Janis perform," he said. "I’ve never seen her live."

"See you at 6.00pm next Friday," I said.

"I don’t know man," moaned Derek. "Punctuality is so hard..."

"They won’t wait for you," I warned him. "Nobody waits in The Waiting Room."

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