He parked under an oak tree that had splattered acorns on the asphalt. One of the green clusters cut loose, cracked against the hood. Standing there squinting up at the tree limbs swaying. The wind cutting through his jacket. Move the car? The home covered at least two acres. No, no. This way he’d remember the spot.
A grade school had decorated the foyer with construction paper Easter Eggs and dribbles of crayon. Swells of color and uneven lines among artificial plants potted with little tangles of fake moss. The undertone of disinfectant and soiled diapers. From the dust we came.
“Oh yes, yes I forgot.” He jotted his name in the ledger, the name of his mother. The heavy woman behind the kiosk tapped her finger. He wrote 12:17 pm in the space he’d missed, held the pen at the end of the m. This felt significant. The Soduko book there in his breast pocket. Had he brought something to write with?
The woman’s penciled eyebrow rose, and he returned her pen. Probably left his at home in the stack of insurance paperwork on the desk. The doctor’s letter he’d set aside. Gathered his wallet and keys and then just sat there resting them on his thighs. Where was there, really, to go? Everything was foreign to him. Ratios of proteins with science fiction names: Amyloid beta, Tau. What the doctor explained were harbingers of dead and dying cells in the brain. A computer printout of decay.
It ran in the family of course. But the doctor couldn’t say when the effects would start.
Linoleum underfoot where the children’s efforts ended. A woman bound to a wheelchair in the elevator corridor, dressed in the thin gown with patterns of little fishes they all wore. She’d leaned her head back so that her jaw fell open on her chest. Her tongue worked at strings of saliva and she stared up as if she could see heaven.
The elevator doors dinged and a nurse stepped out. About his age, slim-hipped. She held her arm against the door, offered a smile.
“Do you know where you’re goin’?” she asked.
“Oh, I do. I do, thank you.” She’d surprised him and he spoke too fast, flushed. She smiled again and turned the key so he could press the third-floor button. Couldn’t have the residents wandering between floors.
“Just call down to the desk when you’re done.”
“I will, thank you.”
She slipped out to collect the old woman and the doors closed. He couldn’t remember if he’d seen her before, if this was their first conversation.
His mother in room 307. Someone had turned her to look out the window and she sat there with her eyes closed and her birdcage ribs feathering up, down. Scabs on her scalp showing through her cornsilk hair. The nurses told her not to scratch them open but she couldn’t remember so they’d put gloves on her hands.
Her eyelids fluttered open. The milked look of confusion.
The room was dim, she couldn’t see him. He turned on a lamp and sat on the stool beside her.
“It’s Harry mom. It’s me.” Little pieces of her sloughing away each time she slept. Did she have any idea?
“Harry. Do I know you?”
“You do, I’m your son.”
“I have a daughter…”
“Miranda died mom.”
“But I don’t have a son.”
“You do mom. I’m living proof. Brought you these chocolates.” He set the package on the windowsill. She reached a quivering arm, so he took the box and worked at the plastic. Put one of the truffles in her gloved palm. The basic functions, talking, walking, eating, how could they stay when everything else fled? How was it fair to be reduced to an echo?
“Did you tell Maude about those cows? They were so loud last night.” Pointing out at the freeway with chocolate in her teeth. She shifted forward in her chair and he could smell urine.
“She did mom.” He spread the book on the tray in front of her.
“What is this?”
She swatted away his hand.
“I don’t like puzzles.”
“Yes you do.”
“I don’t know the rules.”
“Yes you do.”
She took another chocolate from the box, stopped with it halfway to her mouth. He took the candy from her and she watched it in his fingers, trying to divine its meaning.
The doctor was a good man, a Yale man. Said he hadn’t even really wanted to do the test but he felt it was his duty so now it was out there and they both knew. Harry would have to assign power of attorney to his lawyer. There was no one else.
The nurse from the elevator tapped at the doorjamb.
“How are y’all doin’?”
“I…we’re good, good thank you.”
“Do you need anythin’? Need me to change her?” She wrinkled her nose. A gaunt man trundled past the doorway, shuffling his feet and pushing an IV bag. Acorns pattering against the roof like a rainfall of little feet.
“No…no. Thank you.”
“Well, well ok then. Enjoy your visit.”
“Thank you,” he said, and she left.
He worked on the puzzles while his mother dozed. The scarf he’d gotten her for Christmas wrapped three times around the loose skin of her neck. Some time later she found his wrist. Her eyes wide at him.
“Franklin. Franklin is that you?”
He wore the same shocked curl of hair captured on his father in old pictures. Could never figure out if it was intentional or not.
“No mom, it’s Harry.”
“Franklin I want another child. We’re a small family, we don’t want to go extinct.”
“Did I tell you that before?”
“You did mom. Don’t worry, I remember.”
Miranda the days when I hung my feet off your bed and you held up a blue blouse, a red one and we talked about everything we’d do in life live in Chicago and have a dog but then the accident and maybe mom doesn’t remember me because I haven’t done anything tragic, memorable and it’s all going to disappear, you and all of it.
Then his mother sat back in her chair and closed her eyes. The sunlight bled from the room and he grew drowsy with her. The acorns battered against the roof, and he listened to them until he thought of nothing at all.