fiction and other writing

Archive for the ‘Alzheimer’s’ Category

The Woman Who Didn’t Smile

I was sitting in the cafe finishing my coffee, when I noticed a very old man with a beautiful smile, lead in a frail old lady, who was as fragile as a little bird. Her skin was brown and crinkled like screwed up wrapping paper. There was no light in her eyes and her face was dour, but the man smiled at everybody as he wove their way through a jumble of table and chairs. He tried to help her sit down on a padded bench against the wall, and she argued with him that she couldn’t get her feet under the table and that there wasn’t enough space. Gently he removed the table and escorted her around the side of it. When she’d sat down he sat with her, talking softly and calming her. Five minutes later he got up to go to the counter and get their drinks.

‘I won’t be long,’ he said. ‘And you can see where I’m going.’

The queue meandered back towards the door, but the man waved and smiled at her as he stood sideways making sure she was always in view.

Slowly I sipped my cooling coffee and nodded to my companion, who was on her phone. I liked watching people and although the cafe was crowded, nobody seemed to rush us.

The tiny little bird woman tried to engage the man sitting near her in conversation, but he stoically resisted, concentrating on his partner. She tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to something on the floor.

‘You’ve dropped that,’ she said.

It was a dirty serviette, which probably wasn’t his in the first place, but he relented and bent down and picked it up.

‘Thank you so much,’ he said.

A few minutes later the little bird woman became agitated. ‘Where’s he gone? Where’s he gone?’ she repeated parrot like.

One of the waitresses, who was cleaning the tables, stopped and sat by her. ‘Look there he is,’ she said pointing to the counter. ‘He’s waving to you. He’ll be back in a minute. Can you see him?’

The tiny bird woman calmed down again and soon the old man wove his way back through the tables and chairs, carrying a tray with two drinks and a cake. He sat down beside her, helping her with her drink and cake, talking to her in a calm voice. All the time he was smiling at her and anyone else who looked over to the table. But her eyes remained dull and no smile lit her face.

I felt sad for the man that he worked so hard for no response, but there was nothing I could do. My companion offered me another coffee but I was happy just sitting in the warmth of the cafe.

When I looked over to the table again, they had finished their coffee and cake and he was still talking to her gently. Suddenly she looked at him and patted his hand. He closed his eyes as if to treasure the moment and I realised that I’d seen something special.

‘Come on, it’s time to go mum. We need to get your coat on.’ I heard my companion say.

I stood up to get the coat off the back of my chair and caught my face in the mirror behind me. I was shocked that my face held no smile. I was smiling inside but my face, looked vacant, almost cross.

I turned to my companion. I couldn’t remember her name, but she’d call me mum. I patted her arm and said, ‘You’re a good girl. Thanks for bringing me here. I do enjoy it,’ and I saw a smile light up her face; a warm smile, full of love. I hope that somehow she could see I was smiling too.

The Apple Tree

The door creaked open slowly. Agnes felt the cold creep into every part of her body. The heating was on but it made no difference. She pulled the woollen blanket up round her chin. The air shimmered in front of her.

‘Is there anyone there?’ she called out in a frail voice.

There was silence.

‘Who came in?’ she asked.

The silence extended its way into the room like the creeping tentacles of a vine. She looked at the shape appearing in front of her. The form was misty but vaguely familiar. She wished she didn’t live by herself in this old draughty house, but she refused to be frightened. She’d always been strong.

‘Who are you and what do you want?’

‘I used to live here. My name is Thomas.’

‘That’s a good name. Well Thomas, this is my house now and I’d like to know why you’re here.’

‘It’s my home,’ the small child replied. ‘I’ve never left here.’

‘I don’t understand. What do you mean?’

‘I lie beneath the apple tree in the garden. No-one ever blessed me or said a prayer. I can’t leave because of how I died. I’m tied to this house.’

‘Why have I never seen you before then?’

‘That’s what you always say,’ said Thomas.

The image faded before Agnes’s eyes and the room grew warmer.

‘Hello, it’s only me,’ called Martha from the front door. ‘How are we today? Oh, it’s nice and warm in here.’

‘Hello, who are you?’ asked Agnes.

‘It’s me Martha. I’ve just bought you a nice hot meal. I come every day. Do you remember?’

‘Hello Martha. What’s for dinner today?’

‘Macaroni cheese, followed by apple pie. Let me just get you some cutlery, and then I’ll have to go. Lots of people waiting for their dinner.’

When Martha closed the door, Agnes settled down and ate her meal. She had just finished when the door creaked slowly and Agnes felt the cold again. A little boy appeared before her out of a mist. She held the blanket close to her.

‘Who are you?’ she asked.

‘My name is Thomas. When I was alive I lived here. Now I lie under the apple tree in the garden and I can’t leave because of how I was killed.’

‘Well Thomas, this is my house now. I think you are making me very cold.’

‘I’m cold. I’ve been cold for seventy years.’

‘What can I do to help you to leave?’

‘You can say a prayer about how sorry you are that I died such a violent death.’

‘Well, of course I am sorry. No-one should die a violent death. Let me go and get my coat and I’ll come into the garden with you.’

Agnes went out of the room to get her coat, but when she got to the hall she couldn’t remember what she’d gone to collect. She went back to sit by the fire and pulled the blanket round her. The soft texture was comforting but there was a chill in the air. A young boy appeared before her.

‘Who are you?’ she asked.

‘My name is Thomas. You were going to get your coat and come into the garden and say a prayer for me about how sorry you were that I died young.’

‘Was I? Well Thomas why would I do that?’

‘So I don’t make you cold anymore.’

‘That’s a good reason.’ Agnes picked up her pen and notebook.
She wrote, ‘Get coat. Go into the garden. Say prayer for Thomas so he doesn’t make me cold anymore.’ Then she stood up holding her notebook. When she reached the hall she put on her coat and went back to her chair and put down the notebook. She headed for the garden, following Thomas but when she opened the back door she couldn’t think why she was going into the garden and turned round and went back to her chair. Agnes snuggled under the warm woollen blanket. She was very cold. She picked up her notebook and read: Get coat. Go into the garden. Say prayer for Thomas so he doesn’t make me cold anymore. Then she looked up and saw a young boy.

‘You must be Thomas. Can I say the prayer here?’

Thomas looked at her sadly. ‘If you like.’

Agnes was not a religious person, but there could be no harm in saying a prayer.

‘Dear world, I am sorry that this poor boy, Thomas was killed violently and is now buried under my apple tree. Please let him go where he should be, so my house won’t be cold anymore.’

Thomas went out and lay under the apple tree again.

The door creaked slowly. Agnes felt the cold creep into every part of her body. The heating was on but it made no difference. Her thick fluffy blanket felt like the inside of a freezer. Nothing she did made her warm.

When Martha arrived the next day it was to find Agnes stiff and as cold as an icicle. While Martha waited for the ambulance she felt a severe chill enter her bones and then a small boy appeared before her.

‘My mother killed me when I was eight, but she could never be sorry about it because she lost her mind and memory.’

‘Who was your mother, Thomas?’

The little boy pointed at Agnes. Martha said nothing, but opened her arms to hold the child. He went straight to her.

‘I am so sorry Thomas,’ she said. She felt a strong hug and then he was gone. Sun started streaming in through the windows. Rays of light danced on the mantelpiece and there they struck an old photograph she had never noticed before of a young boy. He was smiling.

A Hard Day’s Night

Hilary stood outside the Odeon, wearing her Mary Quant style dress. It was a very short tent dress, black and gold check and made of light corduroy material. She shivered. There was no point in having a fashionable dress and covering it with a thick coat. Her stomach was churning over. Nick was due any minute. He was older than her by two years and if her dad had known she was meeting him, she would have been grounded for ten years. Nick was very tall, over six foot and he had the bluest eyes she had ever seen.

Her dad thought she was going to see ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ for the third time. He was happy to accept her obsession with the Beatles, but couldn’t cope with the idea that his little girl might be interested in boys of the real variety. If he’d known that she was not with her friend, Christine, tonight, he’d have forbidden her leaving the house. As it was he’d not been happy with the length of her skirt and she’d had to put her make-up on after he’d dropped her off.

Then she saw Nick as he turned the corner into the main high street. He waved at her but she noticed he didn’t speed up. He was smart in a leather jacket and tight jeans that had been specially faded to give a casual look. He greeted her with a kiss on the cheek and suggested that they go to this party he knew about in a nearby hall. She felt the warmth of her hand in his and forgot how cold she’d been feeling. It was amazing how being in love changed physical feelings.

The hall looked beautiful to Hilary; it was bright and decorated. Music was blaring out and people were dancing the twist. She felt very awkward and gauche. She had thought she looked fashionable but this crowd were sophisticated, older and she knew nobody but Nick.

“I’ll get you a drink,” Nick said.
“Just an orange juice,”
“Yeah right,” he said, leaving her on her own.

She felt panic rising. She shouldn’t have come. There were none of her friends here and her dress, which she’d spent all her Saturday job money on, was decidedly frumpy.

“Fancy coming out the back, love,” a boy leaned over her.
“No thanks. I’m with Nick.”
The boy, Gary, laughed, “Oh well you’ll be out the back soon enough then.”
“What d’you mean?”
“Oh c’mon love, you must know his reputation.”
“No, I don’t. Anyway we’ve only just met.”
The boy laughed again. “Huh, that won’t make any difference.” He wandered off as Nick returned with the drinks.
“Who were you talking to? Nick asked, handing her a drink.
“Don’t know. He er wanted to dance, but I said I was with you.”
She took a sip. “What’s this? It’s not orange juice.”
“They didn’t have any, so I got you an orange drink instead. If you don’t like it leave it.”
Now she’d annoyed him. “No, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” she said taking a sip.”
“Wanna dance?” Nick said, leading her on to the floor. They did the twist and then a smooch dance.
“You read Lady Chatterley?” Nick asked.
“Not exactly. It’s been round school and I’ve read excerpts, but I couldn’t take it home. My dad would kill me if he found it. ”
“You frightened of him then?”
“Well, I don’t deliberately annoy him. He’s quite strict and my mother’s even more so.”
“I’m surprised they let you come out without meeting me then.”
“They don’t actually know. I’m not allowed boyfriends.” said Hilary.

She finished her drink and Nick went off to get her another one. This time she felt fine about being on her own and was swaying to the music when he came back. He smiled at her and she took a big thirsty swig. They danced some more. The lights dimmed and she was aware that Nick was very close and his hands were all over her. She tried to keep standing, but felt unsteady on her feet and then without warning she had to push him away. With her hand over her mouth she ran to the ladies and threw up. There was no-one about to help her and then the door opened. She turned round and saw Nick was there.

“Yuck, now that’s not very enticing. I don’t fancy you in that state. You’d best get yourself home to daddy, love.”

Hilary couldn’t reply as another wave of nausea hit her. She heard the door slam. Tears ran down her cheek and as she finally looked up the sight in the mirror was horrendous. Nick didn’t want to be with her. She had to get back to the Odeon before her dad picked her up and she looked a total mess.

Quietly the door opened again and Gary stood there with a pint glass of water. “I thought you might be needing this, as I saw Nick dancing with Pam and I can guess how much Vodka he put in your drink.”
“Vodka? No wonder I was so ill.”
“Look I know I tried it on earlier, but I don’t get girls smashed and then take advantage. Just drink the water slowly. The best thing you can do now is wash your face, clean yourself up, put some make-up back on and then walk out of this party with your head held high.”

Hilary looked at him carefully and then back at her image in the mirror. He made sense. She washed her face and reapplied her make -up, in between sipping the water. Once she’d brushed her hair and backcombed it again she looked much better.

“My stomach feels rough,” she said.
“Have some toast when you get in,” Gary said. “It’s probably a good job you threw up. At least you won’t be so drunk.”
Hilary glanced at her watch. “I must hurry. My dad’s picking me up from the Odeon in twenty minutes.”
“C’mon then. Head high and smile as if you’re happy. Hold onto my arm,” said Gary
Hilary walked back out into the main hall. The music was too loud and as she looked closely she saw what a tatty place it was.
“Night Nick,” she called as she sauntered out of the door. She turned to Gary when they were outside. “I’m going to run as I daren’t be late.”
“OK, I’ll run with you,” said Gerald.

It was cold, but the fresh air made her feel better. They arrived before her dad. “I’ll stand over there until you get into your dad’s car, just to make sure you’re safe. By the way Psycho is coming back to this cinema next Saturday. D’you fancy going? ”
“If I can bring my friend Christine,” Hilary said.
Gary smiled and started to walk away. “It’s a date” he called.
“Thank you for helping me tonight,” she shouted back as her dad’s car drew up at the curb.

This story is written to support a group of people with Alzheimer’s and was a task set at the writing class I attend. It is based on the sixties.

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