Observations of the closed world of Alzheimers and those who can only watch.
| Fatigue troubles him of late. It creeps up uninvited and settles on his shoulders, an unassailable weight pressing his eyelids shut.
It is summer and he is young. The kitchen filled with the aroma of baking bread and acrid coal dust from his fathers dirty pit clothes soaking in a bucket of steaming water. Waving his booted feet in mid air, idly marking time until dinner, he sits on a high backed chair with his back to the window content just to sit in the dimness of the kitchen, soothed by the familiarity of home.
He knows without looking that beyond the kitchen window, across a paved yard where he played when he was little, there is a garden pressed behind a rough stone wall. The garden, filled by row upon row of vegetables and a rhubarb patch with immense glossy leaves and reached by steeply rising steps stretching endlessly forward under a blue sky. He knows that beyond it lies the village, other gardens and other houses, each a mirror of its neighbour laid out in long rows, side by side and back to back. All overlooked by the pithead standing so tall at the top of the hill that he could almost believe the immense turning wheels could touch the evening sun…and he knows that one day his father will go there and never come back.
“What you doin’ our Jeffrey?”
He turns toward the voice, disagreeably sharp. Her face drawn, eternally tired as she wipes her hands down her pinafore leaving damp patches as she turns from the sink. Smiling at the softness of her eyes, hazel like his, he shrugs in mock offence as she tousles his hair.
Jeffrey wakes with a start, thin strands of hair the colour of ashes brushing the map of lines on his cheek. Gazing out in alarm at unfamiliar magnolia painted walls he feels the rise of a moment’s panic that occurs too often and too often refuses to go away.
“What’s for dinner?” He poses the question to no one in particular, his mind still stubbornly held by the aroma of baking bread.
“It isn’t time yet. You’ve only just had breakfast.” Her voice is disagreeably sharp and he stares with eyes wide and vacant, his panic growing as her image, with face drawn and eternally tired, dissipates into the unfamiliar magnolia overlaid by another too much like one his mind won’t release to be different, yet just different enough to make him doubt. He should know, he knows he should, the electric clock tapping out the seconds as his mind searches the meandering paths for the place where he left her temporarily lost.
He should know this time, this place and all the things in it and is almost certain that just beyond the window is a garden neatly packed with flowers. Yet it has all collapsed into uncertainty and he falls into the strange and lonely abyss where anxiety churns his stomach and steals away his appetite. He might cry, unsure that he could stop the tears even though it feels wrong, unseemly, his pride unable to hold back the need. That too, lost temporarily.
“Are you alright?” She steps forward, her hand outstretched to smear comfort on his arm and soothe his tears falling over fragile skin.
Her eyes are soft just as he remembers, panic falling into confusion as the years fall together into a tangled mass. She is crying too, holding back the tears behind a red rimmed and glossy sheen. The feeling, it seems has become infectious, endlessly stretching outward like his childhood garden under a sky that is no longer blue.
“Jenny.” He reaches out to touch her, instinct leading him to untangle a thread from the confusion and recognise a face youthful and beautiful, unchanged. Speaking her name as if she was never lost, his voice wavering from the aftermath.
“Yes love…I’ll make us a cup of tea.” She is smiling now, lifting her hand to her face as she walks away making no more comment on his tears. That moment has passed and there is no reason to remind him of it, though in a moment he might wonder at the moistness of his cheek.
Pushing himself stiffly out of the armchair he follows her, tracing her steps through fading eyes. Pulling her out from the tangle of past events and people to keep her close and never lose her again.
“That’s OK love…I’ll do it,” Jenny squeezes his hand, fragile and childlike; responding to his pale fear haunting the gadgetry of the kitchen made simple that he might still understand it and the marker on the milk bottle so that he might know which one to use. For a stuttering moment she passes him a guarded smile, thinking that perhaps she misunderstands his fear this time; though the weight of understanding burdens her dreams and sometimes, too often, makes her heart beat too fast.
Nodding agreement, he turns and retraces his steps unable to smile and still feeling the warmth of her touch. Taunted by time that has become squashed into one moment shredding reasoned thought, he falls back into his chair trying to reason with confusion; to make sense of the senseless as the bloom of a summer’s morning lights up the magnolia walls.
“How old am I?” He asks suddenly, lifting his eyes once more into hers as she holds out a mug steaming tea.
“Your eighty five you silly old fool,” she responds gently mocking, meaning no harm; failing wit her only defence.
For a while she waits, watching his face struggle with the information, finally finding acceptance and settling. Then she leaves him to bury her frustration in other tasks until exhaustion or the relentless sting of arthritis erodes her strength and wills her to find solace in sleep. Trying not to think beyond that one moment, or back over a lifetime when things were different and he knew where to find a spoon or work the toaster. Ever fearful of the day she will slip into a dark place in his mind too far down the meandering path to ever be recovered, she fights a surge of unreasoning anger that the shared grace of old age has been stolen before her vision of it had a chance to come true.
He sips his tea as the clock on the wall marks time back and forth, one more minute, one more hour. The panic is gone, forgotten.
The unbearable weight of fatigue pressing his eyelids shut that he might sleep and remember as he waits for the day that his memory will come back.