The sound of seagulls and water lapping against the edges of the sand brought him back to reality. Shifting around in the low beach chair, he found muscles he had forgotten about had fallen asleep. His bones cracked and popped as he extracted himself from the rickety beach chair.
The faded picture burned a hole in his pocket, reminding him why he was sitting on a beach in the middle of the day—a picture of happier days on the beach. She lived in the beach house a short distance from the public beach. He could see the house from where he was sitting, but he hadn’t spotted her yet. Soon it would be too dark to watch the house from the beach.
It had been some time since he’d seen her. Far more years than either of them would care to admit—or count. He had to see her one more time. Just one more time before it happened, but would she see him? He didn’t know, but he had to try.
The doctor’s words kept repeatedly playing in the back of his mind like an old eight-track stuck on repeat play. But this wasn’t a song he knew by heart or loved. He valued each word now, for he knew what was coming in the next few years. His grandfather lingered from the same illness, and now at his age, the prospects of his lasting long were small.
Closing his eyes, he pushed his mind back through the decades. Time passed before him—his wedding, their first child being born, and many happy experiences between them. Then the flash of lighting as two cars collided and the echoes of the sounds of metal and steel impaling each other always barged into his memory. For a second, he smelled the gas just before it exploded into a fireball. So real he could feel the ground shake under him pushed the memory back in the depths where he wanted it to stay. But it never did. Periodically, it would flash in his eyes, and he was back there again.
Over the last few months, the memories had started resurfacing more frequently and more vibrantly. Each time they became clearer and more real. A couple of times, he hadn’t been able to tell what was real and what wasn’t. It scared the hell out of him.
The doctors tested him several times and then him to more doctors who tried medications. He couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast, but he could remember stuff from years ago as if it was yesterday. Then they gave him the diagnosis.
The word rang in his ears like a death toll—Alzheimer’s.
This would be his last chance to make peace with her before he faded into the nothingness that was this disease that ravaged his mind. His aged body often refused to work or let him do things, and he could live with that, but his mind was slowly leaving him was something he couldn’t live with, at least not alone.
The signs were already present. Yesterday, he had forgotten the name of his best friend, who he’d seen every day for fifty years. He was a stranger to him until he heard his friend’s name, and then he barely remembered him. It scared him even more than the prospect of messing his pants and not knowing it.
So, while he could remember her, he came to see her. She had blamed him for the crash. He’d been driving, but he tried to tell her all these years that he never saw the other car. It wasn’t there when he pulled into the street. Then it was.
The other car didn’t stop and plowed into the passenger’s side and killed his wife instantly and almost killing him.
He’d wished it had killed him. Ironic that now he was getting his wish. The disease was killing him, slowly, one brain cell at a time.
He sat on the beach near her house for hours, trying to work up the courage to knock on her door. Each day was a little longer, and he knew he was wasting precious time. Finally, he’d had enough—time to do this.
The house and yard were neat, but small toys, the kind that a two-year-old plays with and leaves where they land, littered the front porch. The toys belonged to his grandson, who he hadn’t seen since he’d been born. She’d barely let him see him at the time. Now two years later, he was here again.
At times like this, he wished he drank. Some liquid courage sounded good, but he knew better. He’d seen what booze could do to a person. It wasn’t pretty. It could be pretty devastating for all involved, so he left it alone. It wasn’t his way out.
Breathing deeply one more and counting to ten to himself, he knocked.
The sounds of a television playing a children’s show came through the door. Then the sound lowered, and he heard the bustle of toys shoved out of the way. The door opened.
She stood in the half-open door leaning against the doorframe. “Dad,” He nodded, shifting from one foot to the other. “What are you doing here?”
“I came,” he paused looking for words, “to see you and Billy one more time.”
A puzzled look crossed Sarah’s face. “One more time?” She stood straighter and appeared concerned, but she had still not invited him inside.
He pulled a paper from inside his jacket and handed it to her, then shoved his hands in his pocket. “This explains it better than I can.”
She read the letter and her expression changed instantly from irritation to concern. “Alzheimer’s?” She muttered more to herself than to him. “Dad… I don’t know what to say.”
“There was no reason for you to say anything. I just found out myself not long ago and wanted you to know.”
She handed him the paper and opened the door the rest of the way. “Come in, Dad, we need to talk.”
He came in past her. The living room was a sea of toys and clothes, and the sound of TV droned in the background. She hurried to an easy chair and tossed a pile of clothes from it.
“Here. Sit down, Dad. Would you like some coffee?”
He sat in the newly cleared chair and nodded yes. “Yes, some coffee would be good, but only if you have it ready.”
She hurried into the kitchen. While he waited, he tried to think what to say next.
He saw a picture of Sarah, his wife, and him on the mantle, and all he could think was now there are only two of us.
Well, three now, with Billy. He closed his eyes, and the lights flashed in his mind again. The crunch of metal colliding rang in his ears, and for a second, he saw her face, a split second before everything went black from the impact. The surprise and pain engraved in his mind. The one memory he wished this damned Alzheimer’s would take away from him kept returning no matter how much he tried to forget it.
Sarah returned in a minute with two cups of coffee. Billy remained enthralled with a cartoon on the television, hadn’t noticed what happened. Suddenly he realized there was someone else in the room. Turning, he looked up. His eyes widened with surprise.
“This is your grandpa, Billy. You were too little to remember when he was here before.”
Billy seemed to think having a grandpa was a good thing. He jumped up. “Grandpa!!”
In seconds Billy was trying to climb into his lap. He balanced his coffee cup and pulled Billy onto his knee. Sarah had pushed a spot clear on the couch and sat near them.
“Dad, I don’t know what to say..”
“There’s not much to say, Sarah. I’m losing my marbles. Officially now….” He tried to make it a joke, but neither of them laughed.
Eh, how bad is it?”
“Well, at the moment, I still know what I’m doing most of the time. I took a cab here because I wasn’t sure I’d remembered the exact address.”
“It’s been too long.”
“I know.” He sipped his coffee, and they continued in silence while Billy squirmed on his lap and played with his toy.
“Your mother—I’m sorry.”
“I know. I know you didn’t see the other car.” She sipped more coffee.
“I… I tried to tell you..”
“You did, and I didn’t believe you. I wanted someone to blame, and for that, I’m sorry. I’ve been thinking that and was planning on contacting you. Dad, what can I do to make it up to you?” She shifted so that she faced him from her end of the couch.
“You’re doing it, hun. I just needed to see if you could forgive me.”
“I always loved you, Dad, but... I’m so sorry I blamed you. It wasn’t your fault. Listen, you shouldn’t be on your own. I have room here if you can put up with Billy.”
“No, I wouldn’t want to put you out, and you shouldn’t have to deal with this.”
“Dad, it’s no bother. I shouldn’t have pushed you away. I was wrong. Billy needs to get to know you, and I need my dad.”
“If you want me, I would love to come here and live.”
Billy looked back and forth between them, puzzled at the tears in his mother’s eyes.
“Mommy, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, hun, everything’s right again.” Sarah went to them and pulled Billy and her Dad as close she could.
Through his tears, he knew this was a moment he would never forget.