Marian D. Moore
It wasn’t until almost half time that Jack was certain that he was hearing an alarm. Annie nuzzled his neck while the referees argued amongst themselves about a minor foul. At the edge of his hearing, something buzzed.
Annie leaned against his shoulder and Jack kissed his index finger and tagged her forehead in a familiar ritual. “You’re mine”, he whispered.
“What are they arguing about now?” she asked.
He knew that she hadn’t been watching the game. One of the things that he loved was her willingness to sit quietly beside him despite not being interested. Sarah, his late wife, would have been banging about in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal. Annie sat with him without questions or complaints.
“If they keep calling the game like they have, the players should go home and let the refs play instead,” Jack said. A bell trilled. “Do you know that your phone is ringing?” he added.
“My phone is right there,” Annie said. She nodded towed the side table and yes, he saw now, her phone was there. Pink, dark and silent. Still he heard a persistent electronic cry. Zuz, Zuz, a silent beat and then zuz, zuz again.
“What is that then? It can’t be a fire alarm.” With another glance at the arguing officials, he pulled himself up from the sofa and urged her up to follow him.
After dissecting the small den, Jack proceeded down the hall to the back of the compact house. It had been built shotgun style. Like him, Annie had been married, widowed, and had downsized over the years. The cherished possessions that decorated the walls had been precisely chosen: a portrait of every living family member, the wedding cup that she and her husband had once shared, original artwork signed by a now famous artist. When Jack and Annie reached the bedroom, he found the remains of the flowers that he’d purchased weeks ago crumbling on the dresser. The buzz came from the middle drawer of the dresser. After a glance at Annie, Jack pulled the drawer open and pulled out a jewelry box that sang like a wasp in his palm. Annie shrugged and he opened the box to find a pair of pale pink stud earrings.
“Oh!” Annie said quietly.
Jack looked at her as she took the box from his fingers.
“I remember these,” Annie said. He watched as she held them to her ear.
“You used to wear these,” Jack said slowly. “Before I bought you the diamond studs.”
“Yes,” Annie smiled and closed the box that still sounded like an angry insect.
“What are these?” he asked. Two rooms away, he could hear the crowd begin to chant on the TV set. Perhaps the fans were demanding a decision; or maybe the refs had made a call. The game would start back soon.
“Medical alert,” Annie said in a much too cheerful voice. Jack looked at her sharply.
“Then you’re supposed to keep these on? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I like the diamonds better,” Annie said. “I still wear them sometimes. Ella would have a fit if I didn’t.” She nodded at an old framed photo of her daughter and grandchild, Amara. Ella stared out of the portrait, her bare mahogany arms cradling her infant, both of their eyes dark and expressive. The first time that Jack had spent the night, he had turned the photo down on the dresser to Annie’s laughter.
“Put the earrings on now,” Jack said.
Annie slipped the right diamond stud out and carefully pinned it in its velvet box. She slipped the pink quartz alert into her right earlobe. The alarm stopped and the color faded from pink to yellow.
“How does it look?” Annie asked.
“It’s yellow. I don’t recall them changing color. What does yellow mean?”
“Oh. Yellow.” Annie started to reply and then stopped. “I suppose that I should go in to see the doctor.”
“What does yellow mean?” Jack persisted.
Annie said nothing at first. “The basketball game is starting up again,” she murmured. “We should go back.”
Jack backed up to the bed, pulling her with him. Sitting on the edge of the coverlet, he held her before him. “Listen, I’ve asked you dozens of times to marry me. I’m committed. I’m not going anywhere.”
“It doesn’t make sense to get married at our age,” Annie said.
“Regardless—what I mean is that I am here for better or worse, married or not. What does yellow mean?” He peered up at her. The only light in the room was from the hall and it fell against her face in a sharp edged line. The yellow quartz stud shone weakly in the light.
“I need a refill,” Annie said in a tight voice. “I expect that’s what yellow means. I’d have to pull out the booklet that they gave me.”
“Memory.” Annie bit off the words. “Have I become more scattered?” She looked around the room, at the dresser and then back to him. “I have a problem with memory.”
“Alzheimer’s?” he ventured in disbelief. “There are remedies for that.” He felt an interior shiver. Well, I said ‘for better or worse’, he told himself.
“Not Alzheimer’s. That makes tangles of ‘stuff’,” she waved her hands. “My doctor says that it’s more like a slow leak from an hourglass. All of the sand eventually runs out.”
Jack regarded Annie for a moment incredulously. “We all have that, love,” he ventured finally.
“Discernible,” Annie said. She faced him, but looked over his head at the far bedroom wall with a blank stare. “My leak is discernible. Ella can explain better. Talk to Ella.”
“What does she mean?” Jack asked Ella the following afternoon. Ella had cleared thirty minutes of her lunch hour, but she’d brought Umar, her young son. Amara, now ten years old, was ensconced in school.
“Exactly what she said,” Ella said placidly. ‘My mother has a version of early onset dementia. It showed up when she was forty-five. Dad had just died; I was in college. I thought that it was something like PTSD from the stress at first. We both did.”
“And neither of you mentioned it? I’ve been dating your mother for over a year.”
Jack sounded peeved even to his own ears. Idiot! He told himself. The woman you love is sick and you’re complaining that you didn’t know.
“My mother has never let her illness stop her,” Ella said in a stern voice. “And most of her boyfriends…” Jack heard the hard emphasis on the plural word and cringed. “Well, the situation usually sorts itself out. They learn of her problem, one way or another, and they disappear. She has the treatment when the time comes and everything goes back to the day of her memory backup. She forgets the man who deserted her; she forgets everything that happened after the backup matrix. She will probably think Umar here,” Ella nodded at her young son dozing in her arms “is Amara.”
“Ten years ago? The latest memory is ten years ago?” Jack felt every part of him shrink. He had known Annie for only eighteen months.
“The earliest and the latest. That’s when the process became available for the public. Some damage had already been done. It was the best that we could do.”
“Does she have to have the treatment?” Jack said quietly. “Annie is fifty-five now. I’ve already asked her to marry me. I’ll take care of her.”
“And if you think of telling her that, I’ll slap you with a restraining order. I have power of attorney for my mother. I’m not going to watch her dissolve away so that you can have a few months with the woman that you think you know.”
“The woman that I love,” Jack insisted.
“Who you barely know. After all, she didn’t tell you about her problem, did she?” Ella’s voice remained so low that patrons at the nearby tables did not turn around, but Jack could hear the steel in her tone. Her posture had stiffened and Umar woke up and whimpered quietly.
“I’m taking her to the doctor tomorrow,” Jack said after a moment. “It’s the earliest that she could get an appointment.”
“Who is she seeing?” Ella said.
Ella nodded. “I’ll talk to him after the appointment.”
Yes, I’m sure you will. Jack thought. To make certain that I don’t make another offer like that. They didn’t return to the subject again. Instead, he asked her about Amara and her progress through fifth grade. He asked about Ella’s husband, about Ella’s job, about everything other than Annie and her illness.
*-*-*“Do you understand the process, Mrs. Cisse´?” Dr. Walker asked. “It’s been some time since I’ve seen you.”
Jack scrutinized the specialist behind the massive hardwood desk. He and Annie had spent thirty minutes in the waiting room, giving Jack plenty of time to consider the various stages of Annie’s disorder in the five or six patients crowded into the antechamber to his office. Most of them were alone. Walker’s face was baffled when Jack accompanied Annie into the room. Annie’s explanation that Jack was her companion only confused the man more. Annie was obviously too cognizant for a medical companion.
“Her boyfriend,” Jack had said. The confused look on the doctor’s face went away to be replaced by consternation. The introductions were followed by brain scans, eye exams, and blood tests all with Jack sitting patiently in a corner keeping Annie occupied with conversation when that was allowed. Now, they were back in the office with this doctor who didn’t know where to place his eyes—on his patient, or the wildcard ‘boyfriend’.
“Why don’t you explain the process to me,” Jack said. Annie’s only answer had been to place her right hand in his and glance in his direction. “Annie knows, but I haven’t seen it first hand.”
“Do you know anything about the history of memory extraction?” Dr. Walker looked almost relieved. Jack guessed that the doctor had questions of his own to ask Annie’s new companion. Now he would have an excuse.
“Developed by some corporation to preserve company records, I heard. A living archive,” Jack said. Reflecting, Jack pulled news reports from memory. “It was a bust, if I remember. The matrixes contained everything: company records, personal affairs, fifth grade birthday parties.”
“You noticed my grandfather’s picture,” the doctor said in an offhand voice.
“What?” Jack said. He pulled his eyes back into focus. After a glance at the doctor, he realized that his unfocused gaze had been centered over the doctor’s right-hand shoulder. A glance back at the wall showed the doctor’s diploma, accompanied by several pictures.
“My grandfather was one of the developers,” Dr. Walker said.
“I didn’t know that. Sorry.”
“No need to be sorry. You’re right. The original market plan was a disaster. Luckily, the company found a new market. They became part of the historical memory trust. An integral part of preserving the nation’s political memory.”
“How do you get from being the equivalent of Nixon’s tapes to restoring Alzheimer victims?” Jack asked bluntly. He squeezed Annie’s hand, trusting that she would understand his brashness.
“We can’t restore Alzheimer patients,” Walker said. “That would require more than memory reconstruction. The brain itself would have to be reorganized. All we do is—“
“Pour sand back into my hourglass,” Annie interrupted.
The doctor smiled slightly. “That’s one way of saying it. Mr. Gershon might like a more mechanical view. Recharging a battery for example. Mrs. Cisse´’s battery has merely run down, that’s all.”
Jack glared at the placid man that faced him across a huge desk. “I understand,” Jack said finally. “Are you going to perform this recharge now?”
“No, a week I think.” Dr. Walker’s eyes flittered back to his actual patient. “There won’t be much more damage after a week. If Mrs. Cisse´ could come back next week?”
Jack noticed his phrasing, not ‘Bring Mrs. Cisse´ back’. No, it was ‘if she comes back’—without the boyfriend, no doubt.
“Could I talk to you for a few moments, doctor?” Jack said.
When Annie was safely back in the waiting room, Jack stood behind the consulting chair instead of sitting. The nurse had made it only too clear that Dr. Walker did not have much time.
“You give me the impression that I should stay away from Annie after the procedure, doctor,” Jack asked with no opening.
“It’s usually easier on the patient,” Dr. Walker said. He had relaxed his wariness to some extent. “You can sit down,” he offered. Jack shook his head and waited. “I’m sure that Mrs. Cisse´’s daughter explained that Annie won’t know you when she wakes up from the procedure. My patient understands the process intellectually. But it will still be confusing for her to wake up and find her daughter ten years older. To find that the grandchild that she knew is now ten years old.” “That’s why the picture on her dresser is of Amara as a infant,” Jack said suddenly. “Annie never replaced that picture with a new one.”
“That’s possibly the reason,” Walker said carefully. “My patients have different ways of addressing their problem.”
“But she will adjust,” Jack insisted.
“It will take time,” Dr. Walker said. “Mrs. Cisse´ will have ten years of changes to catch up with. And her problem will re-occur. This isn’t a cure.”
“Because eventually a car battery can’t be recharged,” Jack said bitterly. “That’s some analogy that you have there, doctor. Don’t you think that Annie knows how a battery works?”
“Mrs. Cisse´ is amazingly resilient,” the doctor said. His desk chimed but he ignored it.
“So, I’m supposed to just disappear,” Jack said.
“I can’t tell you what to do,” the doctor said simply. “I can only tell you that Annie Cisse´ will not know you after the procedure. In my opinion, being introduced to a man who says that they have been lovers for...two years… will be distressing. She would feel obligated to feel something that she doesn’t feel, about someone she doesn’t know. I would prefer if my patient was not put under that kind of stress while she is trying to adjust to world that she doesn’t know.”
The desk chimed again and Jack could feel the stern presence of the nurse at his back. He backed out and found Annie in the waiting room. She was pulling giggles out of a child by making faces. Between them sat a distracted young woman who watched the exit hallway anxiously.
On seeing Jack, Annie rose silently and followed him to the car. She remained still as he drove past her small home, passed the city park, and one of the universities. With no real destination in mind, he finally parked the car beside the barren lakefront. Where there had once been golf course quality grass and park benches was now only concrete and barrows of clay.
“Are you going to say anything, Jack?” Annie asked quietly. “What did Dr. Walker say to you?”
“What you might expect,” Jack said. He looked out at the occasional white caps that the wind teased out of the lake. “And there’s not much that I’m allowed to say.”
“You mean, that Ella will allow you to say.”
Jack angled the rear-view mirror so that he could see Annie’s expression. He saw his fingers tremble and told himself that this was anger. He had always had a problem with his temper. Sarah, his first wife, had almost left him because of his temper.
“Ella is afraid of losing her mother,” Jack said as he looked at Annie’s expression.
“Just as you are afraid of losing me,” Annie said.
“Well, if I speak, I lose. And if I don’t speak I lose. She’s put me in a box.”
“Say what you want to say,” Annie said quietly.
Jack turned to her immediately. “Don’t have the procedure.”
“You would lose me anyway,” Annie said. “Day by day, week by week. The woman that you know would disappear.”
“That happens to everyone,” he argued. Twisting in his seat, he touched his forehead to her own. “You’ll change; I’ll adjust.”
“Yes,” she whispered.
He thought that he’d changed her mind until he pulled back, saw her pensive expression, and replayed his own words in his head. Turning away, he gripped the wheel and twisted the ignition switch. “Then I guess we have a week,” he said grimly. “What should we do for a week?”
“Go someplace with children,” Annie said. “Will there still be families on the coast?”
“You liked playing with that little girl,” Jack said. “Her mother didn’t look like she was playing much attention to her. It was a good thing that you were there.”
Jack gave Annie a quick glance in the tilted rear-view mirror. She couldn’t have forgotten…he thought.
“Not her mother,” Annie smiled but the smile didn’t extend to her eyes. “Her mother’s companion. The type of companion that Dr. Walker assumed you were.”
“Her companion!” Jack had not exited the parking lot and tapping the brakes, he faced Annie again. “That child was so young. Didn’t the mother know about her illness? She had to know! If there was a backup of her life waiting for her to retrieve it.”
“I didn’t take a family history,” Annie said ruefully. “But are you really asking about the mother? Or is the question, why didn’t I tell you about my illness? Why didn’t I push you away before you fell in love with me?”
“No.” Taking his foot off the brake, Jack plotted his path into the street. “That isn’t the question.” When they made it back to the main road, he directed the car back towards Annie’s mid-city home. “The Gulf Coast is mainly gambling and couples,” Jack said. “We’d have to go to Florida to be around families. Just an hour more of driving. I’ll drop you off so that you can pack.”
*-*-*A week later, Jack sat beside Ella in Dr. Walker’s waiting room. There had been fire in Ella’s eyes when he had arrived. The blaze had been doused with a stern glance from Annie. Annie and he had sat, hand in hand, until she was called to the back. He had risen to see her off, had turned to leave the office, but seeing the weariness in Ella’s eyes, returned. Umar fussed in her arms, and Jack slipped the child out of Ella’s arms and lifted him up airplane style.
“He’s heavy,” Jack commented.
“You can’t stay,” Ella said in a dull voice.
“I know.” Umar burbled and Jack lifted him again. “Actually, I could. As long as I don’t interfere. She won’t know me, remember? As long as I sit a seat away from you.” Jack nodded at the two empty seats that he and Annie had just vacated. “She’ll assume that I’m waiting on someone else.” So he had stayed, making small conversation with Ella and playing with Umar. The procedure didn’t take as long as he expected and Annie was soon returning down the hallway. Flat-footed, he slipped Umar back into Ella’s arms and sat two chairs away to watch their reunion.
Annie shuffled awkwardly toward her daughter. They’ve wedged a forty-five year old woman into a fifty-five year woman’s body, he thought. That is truly cruel and unusual punishment. Didn’t anyone consider what it would mean to wake up and find yourself suddenly old? This was a small part of what Walker had been trying to tell him, he realized. Annie kissed Ella’s cheek crisply and looked down at Umar, calling him Amara. Ella did not correct her mother. There was plenty of time for corrections, Jack realized.
“And you?” Annie said.
Jack looked up in surprise. Annie had shifted her position to stand in front of his chair. Jack flashed Ella a contrite look. Obviously, Annie had seen him holding Umar. He could see Ella stumble for an answer: another patient, another family member waiting for a patient…
“You hired me as a companion,” Jack heard his voice say.
“A companion?” Annie said. “Ella! Did you let me go that long without a memory infusion?”
“For after,” Jack said quickly. “It’s been ten years. You hired me for a week just to help you get oriented.” Jack’s eyes pleaded his case with Ella. “A week and then I’m out of here.”
“A week,” Annie said. He could see her consider his words. “What’s your name?”
“Jack. We could start right away. There’s a coffee shop near here. I could go over restaurants, grocery stores…”
“A coffee shop!” Annie laughed and looked back at her daughter. “Did I hire someone who doesn’t drink? There isn’t a bar around here? I’ve never seen a doctor’s clinic that didn’t have a bar close by.”
Jack glanced past Annie to Ella who was laughing silently.
“A bar,” Jack said. “Sure, I think that I can find a bar.”
“All right then,” Annie said heartedly. With two fingers, she tapped his forehead and then pointed toward the door. “You and me, let’s go.”
Marian D. Moore: "I am employed by aVenture Technologies as a computer analyst. My poetry has been published in Drumvoices, The Louisiana Review, Bridges, ReformJudaism.org, and Asimov’s; one work of fiction was published in the anthology Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic."