I entered a flash fiction contest several months ago, and those silly judges didn't see the genius in my writing. I thought about what to do with my piece, and I decided I'd like to share it with you, my readers. So many of you have reached out to me with your own, heart breaking stories about aging and Alzheimer's. Thank you for sharing. My thoughts are with you.
She busies herself at the coffee maker, then puts a saucepan on the stovetop and begins to cook her favorite breakfast, steel cut oatmeal. As she stirs the oats, Elsa gazes at her husband Marty, who is slumped at the table, his back toward her.
“Eat your blueberries, Marty,” she advises. “It will help your brain.” Elsa’s been reading about nutrition and brain health, and she urges Marty to eat well. Today, after a breakfast of oatmeal and berries, she’ll give him walnuts with his lunch and fish high in Omega 3’s for dinner. She’ll limit his consumption of red meat and alcohol.
But Elsa’s efforts are in vain. Marty’s brain is a twisted knot of cords with mismatched and fading signals: berries, walnuts, and salmon cannot coax it out of its haze. Each month the mailbox becomes pregnant with prescriptions for Marty, who now walks through life in an Alzheimer’s induced fog. These powerful drugs do little to persuade him to reenter this world. He shuffles around the house aimlessly. His blank face registers little. He cannot string words together: communicating with him is a game of charades, guessing at the meaning trapped deep in his frail hands, which he waves madly in the air.
Marty looks at the bowl of freshly washed blueberries next to him. He reaches into it and grabs a handful, which he clumsily raises to his mouth. Two renegade blueberries fall to the floor, and Bart, Marty’s beagle, wags his tail and runs to retrieve them.
Elsa fills a bowl with oatmeal and sets it before Marty. He picks up the butter knife and begins to scoop up the sticky cereal with it. The oatmeal slides off the knife and falls in clumps onto the table.
“Marty!” Elsa shouts, “Your spoon is here.” She picks it up and shows it to him. Marty reaches for it and finds himself double fisted. He looks from one hand to the next.
Elsa grabs Marty’s hand, releases the butter knife from his grip, and carries it to the sink. After inspecting the spoon remaining in his left hand, Marty begins to eat.
Elsa returns from the sink and slips into the seat next to Marty. Since Marty can’t talk much, she begins to ramble about her day. She is planning to meet her friend at the salon for a manicure. “You know, Marty. Gill’s wife. I’m going to meet Gill’s wife. Remember when you used to do business with Gill?” Marty nods his head, a faint glimmer of memory in his eyes.
“Y-y-y-e-e-s-s.” He manages to utter. Marty looks at his wife searchingly, and she wonders if he truly remembers. She drifts into silence.
The quiet noise of movement fills the kitchen. Marty’s spoon clinks on the porcelain bowl. The dog licks his jowls. Marty chews his food hungrily, then pauses from time to time to wipe his mouth or retrieve a morsel of food that falls into his lap.
Elsa looks at Marty, longing to see the man she fell in love with 47 years ago. This man who conquered the financial industry and ran his own company was now unrecognizable. His sharp mind, his witty thoughts, his deep love for her are hidden somewhere deep within him, inaccessible. If only she could see the man she cherished. If only he’d stayed with her to enjoy old age.
Elsa sighs a deep, lonely sigh as Death spreads out, blanketing its heavy arms around her. She pulls her fluffy robe around her waist and tightens the belt. “Marty? Marty?” Marty turns to look at his wife. “I’m going to take a shower, Marty. I put your clothes out on the bed. Don’t wear that dirty sweater from yesterday. It looks terrible."
Marty takes his last spoonful of oatmeal and puts the bowl on the floor for Bart, who hungrily laps up its remains. He stands up and slowly climbs the stairs to his office, Bart now at his heels. They plunk down into his soft, leather office chair for another day of television.