By Douglas F. Warrick
Read by Phil Rossi whose novel, Crescent Station is published this June.
Most of Cotton’s memories were gone. Like the name of the ship he had served on. Like the name of his commanding officer. His daughters’ names, which husband went with which daughter, which grandchildren came from which marriage, which fiancé held hands with which granddaughter. That had mostly melted away. His head felt like an icebox, like someone had opened the door, maybe just to grab a beer or to check the expiration date on the milk, and let all the cold air out, filled it up with thick stagnant heat. Alzheimer’s was a muggy goddamned country, the airless stomach of a huge beast that takes its sweet time digesting old useless machinery like him.
He could hold Audrey’s hand, like he was doing now, and he could remember her name and he could see the wedding ring he had given her all those years ago, could run his trembling fingers over it and feel its coldness, its sharpness, and for a couple of moments these things were all he needed.
But he couldn’t remember the wedding, not a goddamned thing about it. He’d reach as far as he could into that broken old icebox, strain to stretch a little further and try to find the little details, what did her dress look like? How did she wear her hair? Was she smiling? Was she crying? It was gone. Melted. And he’d panic because he knew it was there, knew that if he could just reach a little further… And he’d look around and realize he wasn’t at home. He was in a hospital bed. And he’d look up at her and try to say, Audrey, I’m scared, dammit, I’m scared and I want to go home! And all he could ever say was, “Audrey… where’s the cat?” or “Audrey… I don’t know…”
And Audrey said, like she always said, “Hush, Cotton.” And he could see himself in her eyes, a useless old man, or not even a man but a reminder of the husband she ought to have. And he could see how tired she was, could see the part of her that wished the whole mess would just end. The part that wanted a period on the end of this awkward run-on sentence, not that he could blame her. It would be a period, too. Not an exclamation point like he’d always kind of wanted in his Navy days, a smile on his face and the devil at his heels, a man’s sort of death. It—no—he would end quietly with a mushy melted head and a single dark period.