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Chapter 1: When Everyone Becomes A Stranger
I can feel the sunlight. It flickers down my arm and dapples the ground around my feet with specks of gold, the sharp flashes of light burning my eyes like sparks.
It is evening, and so I am weary.
I don’t know where I am, but I know that I’ve been here before- that it was once so familiar to me. I blink fiercely a few times in the hope that this will clear away the vague tinges of fuzziness that surround my brain.
It does not.
I turn my face directly into the last few rays of sun, wondering if they can burn a fiery path through the dark fog that has settled in a damp cloud over all my senses.
A gentle hand on my arm. I do not know the touch, but I know that this person has touched me before-somewhere, buried deep down, I can tell that this is familiar. I turn my head slightly, and see the man beside me for the first time.
I know that he's always there, but I can just never remember.
“Let’s go, dear,” he says quietly, leading me away. I follow, for I have nowhere else to go, and as I walk the colours around me blur and mix into one, making my head spin. I clutch the man,
“Where am I? Who are you?”
A single tear rolls down his wrinkled cheek, and he does not answer.
ways to die.2.breaking
I am fragile. A piece of glass, waiting to shatter. A sheaf of paper, brittle and tearing apart. Each breath takes an eternity, and my ears are filled with the sound of an unsteady heartbeat.
I sit patiently, waiting to die.
“Mary!” someone calls. “Mary my love, look who’s come to visit!” It takes me a while to realise that Mary is me. I am Mary.
“The child. Where is our child, Mary? You had her this morning! I left for work and you had her!”
“I…I can’t remember…” the tears drip, slowly, off the end of her nose.
“Mary… what have you done?” what have you done…what have you done, mary? What have you DONE?
I am crying. These flashes of memory, the lapses into the past…they confuse me. They make the past and the future interweave, to the point where I cannot tell what is real and what is not.
Focus. This chair. This chair that I’m sitting on is real, for I can feel it, pressing into the sallow flesh of my legs.
A man approaches me.
“Why are you crying, darling? Don’t cry, please don’t cry-“
“Where is the child?” I whisper in a rasping voice, hoarse from disuse.
“What child, love?”
“My…my child. I had her this morning! She’s gone! Where has she gone?” I grip the sides of the chair tightly, until I feel as if my hands might break off. The man looks broken, sad, lonely.
“Jenny’s here, Mary. She’s right here. She’s come to visit you-like she does every Saturday.”
But I do not hear him, already gazing out of the window again, my surroundings disappearing into the distance. Blurring into the background. Shrinking.
It’s just me.
I don’t know his name, but it is on the tip of my tongue, tangible and familiar.
A…it begins with an A.
I desperately wish I could remember. I feel like screaming and shouting and kicking something until it has been reduced to a pile of dust on the floor. I want to tear all of my hair out; every last strand. I need to rip it from my withering skin.
He is so kind, the man. A. He sits and reads to me all day long; he holds my hand and strokes small circles onto the palm with his thumb; he shuffles around the house, singing, despite the fact he looks so beaten down that I could cry. Sometimes I do cry.
“Do you think we can go in now, Arthur?” asks a voice from the next room.
Arthur. Arthur, that’s his name! Arthur Arthur Arthur Arthur Arthur. I will not forget that.
Except I know that I will.
“Yes, I’m sure it’ll be fine. If she says anything odd, just ignore it,” Arthur replies.
“I can’t have her upsetting Albert though- you know what happened last time. I won’t have my son terrified half to death by his own grandmother on a weekly basis. It’s getting worse, Arthur.”
“Jenny,” Arthur scolds, sounds weary. “She’s just confused.” The woman, Jenny, scoffs at this.
“Confused my arse. You need to stop deluding yourself Arthur; she isn’t going to get any better. It’s about time you accepted that.”
There is no reply. Jenny says something else, her voice a slightly choked up whisper. “It’s been so many years now, Dad.”
I look at my hands, wrinkled, yellowing, old. Jenny calls Arthur ‘Dad’.
I’m so tired.
I blink at the ceiling until the door opens and a young, dark-haired woman enters the room slowly.
“Mum?” she whispers. “Mum, are you awake?”
I look at her blankly. “I don’t think your mum’s in here.”
Jenny shakes her head with an unsurprised sigh, and calls back to Arthur, “She doesn’t know who she is, Arthur. Best not to bring Albert in, he’ll get upset like usual. We’ll come again another day, if I can find the time off work.”
A door slams.
“Fuck, now Albert’s crying too, Arthur. Mary, please stop! Just…shit, please stop it…”
“What’s wrong with granny, mum? Why doesn’t she know who I am?” the boy sobs.
“Oh, she does know you darling, she’s just…tired…”
“Mummy! I don’t like it!”
“Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Mary, where’s our child gone? What did you do?”
“What’s wrong with you, Mary…”
I wish I could remember the way to stem the tears that always seem to flood this room.
I feel so helpless. Weak. I hate what is happening to me, I hate the way I have so little control over my life.
At least Arthur is here. He is all I have left.
He walks slowly into the room, balancing a plate of food on one hand and a knife and fork in the other. He places them on a table, which he then moves closer to my chair, grunting with the effort.
I am such a burden to him.
“Thank you Arthur,” I smile weakly, clutch his hand.
“Anything for you, my love.” Arthur goes back into the kitchen, and returns a moment later holding a messily wrapped parcel, with a clumsy silver bow lopsided on the top. He places it gently on my lap and kisses my cheek. “Happy birthday, Mary.”
“Mum, where are you going?”
“To work, of course! And why aren’t you getting ready for school Jenny?”
“But…it’s my birthday today! It’s a Sunday…”
“Don’t be stupid, it’s a Wednesday today. And it’s not your birthday for another month, so stop telling all these silly fibs, trying to confuse me.”
“B-but…it really is my birthday mum! Dad! Dad, tell mum how it’s my birthday!” the girl cries, upset.
“Mary, you do know that it’s a Sunday, don’t you?”
“No. No, no, no. It’s a Wednesday.”
I hadn’t remembered that it was my birthday. But they were material things anyway; why should I celebrate my birth when I wished that I’d never been born? Receive a gift that I couldn’t even unwrap because of the accursed trembling in my hands?
Arthur helped me, peeling off the sparkly wrapping paper easily to reveal a thick, leather book beneath the shininess.
“What is it?” I ask.
“It’s a photo album!” Arthur beams, and I try to smile, try to be happy.
We spend the morning looking through the photos, Arthur describing each one to me and becoming increasingly more upset by my lack of response to each memory, captured forever on a sheet of glossy paper.
“Look! There’s Hannah, she was your maid of honour at our wedding, Mary. And your sister, Beth, may she rest in peace. Oh! And little Joseph! I must remember to call him soon, I heard that he’s engaged now…”
The people in these pictures are strangers to me.
“Where are we going, Arthur?”
“To St. Mungo’s, darling. You have an appointment with Healer Marksby.”
“Oh…what’s St. Mungo’s?”
“It’s a hospital, a place where they can try and cure you.” Arthur speaks patiently, but his voice is forced and weary, and I know that he must have told me this many times over.
“But I’m not sick.”
“Of course you’re not, love. It’s just a routine check-up...”
I shake my head, trying to clear away the cobwebs. I vaguely remember someone saying that to me before- “Your brain’s nothing but cobwebs, Mary!”
Had that been my mother? It sounds like something she’d say.
The car smells funny, like old bananas. It makes me feel slightly nauseous.
Where were we going again?
Arthur drives into a car park slowly, and opens the door for me. I get out of the car, and, keeping a firm grip on my arm, he leads me over to an abandoned shop window in the middle of a busy high street. It’s very loud out here, and the bright colours hurt my eyes. I wish I was at home, looking out at the garden. There’s a nice plum tree just next to the window sometimes.
We step through the glass of the shop window, and find ourselves in a very different place. People are rushing around everywhere, looking grim and serious. Rush rush rush. I can almost hear the stress.
I’m confused. What are we doing here? “Arthur,” I say. “Where are we?”
“We’re in St. Mungo’s, dear. You’re having a check-up.”
“B-but…” my voice shakes. “Why?”
I see a boy with a pig’s snout, a man with several pairs of tiny, white wings on his legs, a woman with no arms.
I’m not going mad. I’m not going mad. I’m not going mad.
“Just…just a routine appointment. Everyone has to have it. I’m having it too.” Arthur’s voice is shaking too.
He must be coming down with a cold or something.
The man in green robes examines me. He looks in my eyes, my ears, my mouth. He listens to my heartbeat. He asks me questions, and I don’t know the answers to any of them.
I feel upset.
I start to shiver.
“Mr. Ferguson!” the man calls, and Arthur walks in. Why has he changed his name to Mr. Ferguson? He was Arthur a moment ago.
Arthur Arthur Arthur Arthur Arthur. I haven’t forgotten yet.
“Yes, Healer Marksby?”
The man in green talks quietly now.
“…health deteriorating…hallucinations…blood pressure unreliable…”
Arthur looks distraught.
“…permanent ward…she’ll be looked after there…is there anyone you want to call?”
I don’t like this man.
“I need to call my daughter. She works here, will she be able to pop in for a moment?” asks Arthur.
“I’m sure that will be permitted.”
I think I went to sleep. I don’t know. The lights sort of blurred into one, and I remember my head slumping forwards onto my chest. When I opened my eyes again, a young, dark-haired woman was entering the room. Arthur was holding my hand.
“Hi Arthur,” the woman looks at me and smiles. “How’s mum today?”
Arthur shakes his head. He thinks I’m still asleep. Maybe I am.
“Healer Marksby’s worried, Jen. He wants her moved to a permanent ward here.”
Jen sits down. “I think that would be a good idea, Dad.”
Arthur squeezes my hand. “I don’t know what I’ll do without her, Jenny. I’m so scared she’ll get upset, and I won’t be there to comfort her.” A small tear trickles down his cheek, sparkling like a diamond in the harsh light of the room. It is more valuable than a thousand diamonds to me. “I just…shit, I hate this,” he whispers.
My heart is breaking for Arthur. This is my fault. I have caused all his suffering, and weariness, and those horrible bags under his eyes are because of me.
I wish I could be normal again. I wish I could remember what normal felt like. I wish Arthur could be happy.
He’d probably be happier without me.
“Arthur. Mum needs serious help,” Jenny rubs her temple, sad and stressed. “The more you hold onto her, the more she’ll drift away. It’s time to let her go, Dad.”
Forget me, Arthur, I think. Please just forget me- like I have already forgotten you.
Disclaimer- I don’t own anything
Author’s note: Hello. Wow. I’m happy I finally plucked up the courage to post this.
Just to clear a few things up: Mary is Mary MacDonald, except she’s married to Arthur Ferguson, so she’s Mary Ferguson in this. Jenny is their only daughter, who Mary once lost when Jenny was still only a child. This was one of the first signs of her disease; Alzheimer’s is a very gradual thing, that worsens with time and age. No-one knew what was wrong with Mary at first. I can't pretend that I know all that much about dementia/alzheimer's, so if any of the facts throughout the story seem a little odd, don't shoot me!
Sort of a depressing story, but I enjoyed writing it, and I hope you enjoyed reading it! Drop a review if you’re inclined to :). -Annon
edit: thank you so much to lottie how nominated this for a Dobby! crazy. anyway, i love you forever and ever lottie