He staggered along the corridors that seemed to span over miles of sleet concrete. The rays of a setting sun, launching a saffron medley of shadows, as people walked by and stretchers reeled past a colossal sash window. The aging ambers of his eyes, relentlessly traced each fleeting form, cast on the cinder varnish of the wall. While his mind replayed a carousel of shadows, morphing into the never-ending circle of life.
He cradled his quivering torso in the frail arms, and rocked himself on the sorrel wooden bench stationed in the dim hallway. With every creak in the pallets, the voice in his head grew louder which breached the awareness that she was never coming home. While all he could wonder was how their lives, their story, could come to such an end.
Ralph had silently watched her fade away- as gradual as the turnaround of a season, and yet as obvious as the changing hue of the trees, standing tall in forlorn autumns. With each falling leaf, he could see her drift further away into a season less epoch in time, where memories ceased to exist and dreams were afar to breed.
“How long had she been showing signs of dementia?” The doctor’s words echoed in his ears. The term he had deliberately locked away in a crevice of his mind.
In the haze of the past six months, Ralph had kept hoping she would come back to him. He had tended to her so closely, like a novice mother of a fragile new life, listening to every sound she made, and configuring each movement she displayed. And yet she kept regressing to a world of oblivion, where the life they had both thrived to create for six decades; had neither residue, nor meaning.
Ralph rose from the bench to pace the hallway, now a bisque platform bathed in the soft light of an ending autumn eve. He could not help wonder how the moment bore semblance to the day he had asked Anastasia to marry him. The day he had known, there would never be another place in the confines of this world, as warm and placid, as that dwindling path down the sweet suburban alley, where she had pledged her love to him amidst a blush of autumn stirred leaves.
With each heavy step, the memories of those years came flowing back to him. The journeys they took and the houses they built; the miles and bricks compounding into a lifetime of companionship, now disintegrating, grain-by-grain, before his eyes. Ralph would sullenly reminisce in the quiet of the nights, while Anastasia drifted into the abeyance of the hours. Two people whose minds and souls were one in each way, now more disparate than perfect strangers.
He would show her pictures of times of mirth and she would smile at the colors and sheer they reflected; without reliving the moments those images had immortalized. He would take her to places that were fond, to revoke lost thoughts in the scaffolds of her memory. And yet there wasn’t a sunset variegated enough, to imprint upon the hue less dais of her mind. There wasn’t a sunrise auroral enough, to breach the darkness that devoured their past. She dwelled in a time zone where all was known, but none was familiar.
Ralph would wake up beside her in the morning, as he did each day for sixty years. He would look into her deep grey eyes that no longer held the ceremonial warmth, but a shoal of unfamiliarity instead prevailed.
Despite her aloofness, Ralph had found an acceptance to carry on, and forge his heart along the serpentine course of nature. The calamity of ailment had befallen without recourse, but was there to stay, and was his to endue. He cautiously treaded through a maze of unknown challenges, never knowing if the next step would land him on crust or morass. But he knew he would walk through the relentless meanders of time each day, as long as he procured her presence at the end of each maze.
Days were rolling into weeks and weeks into months until this day… If only he could undo this day.
Anastasia had been rummaging through the drawers, an activity she would prepensely carry, only to distantly behold and reorganize the items they contained. But unbeknownst to him, she had transgressed an abstract boundary that day. Ralph who periodically went through the belongings in that drawer, had forgotten to remove the key, leaving unbarred not only that drawer, but also a threshold to the darkest day from their past.
And so he relived the lurid details of that day once again. While silver rattles and wooden toy trains lay strewn on the floor, amongst a stratum of purled baby blankets and blanched pictures, of black and pale chrome.
Reminders of the life they had known… while Adam was in it.
Ralph took a faltering breath, and felt the mélange of emotions in the hospital air filtering through his lungs, of hope, despair and chagrin. The memory of that day from five decades ago was more distinct than the awareness of his own beating heart. The memoirs of the life he had known before, and travails of regaining that life again, were all too momentous to ever fade their imprint from a hundred other lifetimes he was to live.
Ralph could never forget coming home that day through a tenacious rainstorm, awaiting the sight of Anastasia and their four-year-old frivolous son. Adam who had been playing in the backyard earlier in the day, impatiently waited for his father to return while gazing at the grey skies with his even greyer eyes. Upon seeing the silhouette of Ralph coming from afar, Adam had run outside the door left unlocked, fleeing down the road while Ralph came trudging up the lane.
And then the hands of time, struck upon a fragment of the moment, which changed their lives and all they had lived for.
In the mist of the storm, a car had come sledding through the marsh and mire. Through the frenzy of despair, Ralph could not make it to save his Adam from the calamity that ruthlessly collided with his world. Anastasia had come running at the sound, screaming and eluding, until Ralph had held her to his restrain.
A moment in that day: a lifetime that ensued.
Life went on for Ralph and Anastasia albeit in a different way, as they never went back to being who they were. They learnt to smile again, but grief became a permanent resident in their lives. When Anastasia started to lose her memories, it gave Ralph immense relief in a way, for he felt she could finally be freed of the grief of losing their son. He tried to keep her with him but just enough so she would be his wife and not the mother of Adam.
Ralph had locked away all of Adam’s belongings in a wooden drawer of a chest nut shelf, and only went through them in the dark hours of the night to shed tears and place them back in the prohibited domain. He had, however, forgotten to remove the key that day.
None of Ralph’s endeavors had been able to revive Anastasia’s memories, but opening that drawer took her right back to the day buried under five and a half decades of their lives. He had heard her scream Adam’s name and storm out of the door, akin to that day fifty five years ago. Only he could not restrain her this time, and she ran on to the road to save her Adam. The last sound was of screeching breaks, and then a deathly silence that followed.
Ralph wiped the tears from his face as he looked out of the panes of the sash window, now into the blinding darkness of the fallen night. He mustered the strength to go to her room and look at her pallid face as images of the beautiful Anastasia and mother of Adam, came back flooding his memories.
“If I were to know bringing you back to me would bring back the pain I had tried to dispel all my life, I would let you drift away, farther and farther away… until you reached a place in time where grief could no longer find you.” He whispered through tears as he stroked the languid tresses from her ashen brow.
Anastasia vividly flinched and looked at him with arduous grey eyes. Eyes that contained abysmal grief, and even deeper unfamiliarity. The eyes he had looked into earlier in the morning, sans the warmth, or the memory.
Ralph contentedly breathed and rejoiced at the conquest of their past by the present. Her sallow grey eyes darted across the room, as the ripples of oblivion grew wider and wider, to engulf the memory of that moment from her mind.