Pseudopod 138: Come to My Arms, My Beamish Boy

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.

April 17th, 2009 9:25 am

Wow, that one got to me. I think it’s the first Pseudopod story that has made me tear up (happens embarrassingly often with stories from Escape Pod, I’ll admit). It was terrifying too, so I’m really thankful for the hope at the end. Great reading by Phil, as always. Thanks!!

April 17th, 2009 2:05 pm

Oh, cool. I haven’t listened yet, but I loved reading this story way back in Murky Depths 1. Very excited PP nabbed it!

April 21st, 2009 10:33 am

Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently taken a second job assisting older people. Perhaps it’s because having kids has awakened my sense of mortality. Perhaps it’s that the story is — I say this with no overstatement and with all that the word implies — brilliant and that Phil Rossi is one of my all time favorite storytellers. Whatever the reason, it brought me to tears and now I wish there were a way I could tuck this MP3 into one of the folds my brain to access anytime needed for the rest of my life. Amazing.

April 23rd, 2009 10:35 pm

Just a note: this story is dedicated, as it was in Murky Depths, to Alven Clark.

April 24th, 2009 12:24 pm

I feel nothing, i can hear the author droning, dredging up inner meanings from the inner recesses of his soul and i dont care, die old man, go ahead and die allready… are you thru? what theres more? This should mean something but it doesnt… is this what we’ve become, a dull outer husk gazing inward… as the narrative finally reaches its conclusion i let out a soft flatuent sigh and shift my bulk towards the comment threat, eager to leave my fluid dripping trail on its convoluted recesses…..

April 25th, 2009 7:43 pm

Moving. Loved the metaphor of ‘a run-on sentence.’ Phil is a fantastic reader. Great show.

April 27th, 2009 9:21 am

Perhaps this would work better for me in print. Phil may be a great reader and his tone perfectly appropriate but it just didn’t grab me. Back to the archives now, just made it to Sept 07.

June 29th, 2009 2:15 pm

Win, win, a thousand times win. I love you forever for making this story. I hate you forever for doing it earlier and better than I could.

August 13th, 2009 1:12 pm

Great story!
I took a stab at writing a supernatural Alzheimer’s story a while ago, and it’s probably the favorite thing I’ve written. Good to see a different take on it. :)