art by Liz Clarke
by Frank Dutkiewicz
They made up their minds and started packing.
"Should we bring our medicine?" Helen asked.
John smiled at her. For the first time in a month his wife managed to maintain a coherent conversation. She used to fade in and out, often stopping in mid sentence--her train of thought derailing from its tracks. Moments of clarity became rare jewels that he treasured. Equally as rare, his shaking had stopped. It was as if their decision had cured them.
"Let's leave it behind," he said. "It hasn't been working all that well anyway."
They put their single suitcase in the backseat of their 15-year-old Buick and left before the sun came up. John drove south, sticking to the coastal highway, off the freeway. He saw Helen looking up at the mountains. The glow of the rising sun silhouetted their outline. He had forgotten how beautiful the dawning of the day in southern California could be.
"The kids will be worried," he said.
"We have kids?"
She grinned at John's double-take. She never used to miss a cue. It was what he loved most about her.
"The kids have kids who are having kids of their own. They have their own lives and we are becoming a burden to them, John." She squeezed his hand. "We never wanted to be a burden."
They drove to a diner they used to eat at when they dated. It was boarded up so John pulled into a fast food restaurant across the street.
"You have pancakes?" Helen asked the pimply-faced girl across the counter.
The girl sighed and rolled her eyes. "No, Ma'am. Would you like French toast sticks?"
John slid a hand under Helen's arm and led her out.
"I really wanted pancakes," she said.
They continued south. Midafternoon he watched Helen fade, sitting silently and staring straight ahead, submerging deeper into her fog. He contemplated turning back. A few minutes later his shaking started up. Helen set a hand on his arm. His shaking quieted.
"We're going to see this through together," she said. "Just as we promised each other long ago."
They stopped at an old beachside hotel just as the sun turned orange, its edge touching the waves of the sea. John became worried when Helen stood in the center of the room and stared at the thirty-year-old decor.
"This is the place, John. The very room."
Dementia. "It is very nice."
"You don't know what I'm talking about, do you, you old coot."
He followed her into the bathroom. She got on her hands and knees and peered under the sink. She grabbed his hand and pulled.
"Get down here and see for yourself."
"Okay, but I don't know if I'll be able to get back up."
She pointed at a heart-shaped engraving on the wall behind the drainpipe. Helen n John 4ever was chiseled inside the heart.
"I did that with your pocketknife while you were sleeping. This was the place where we first did it. This is where we conceived our first child."
"Well, I'll be damned. All the stuff you forgot and you remembered this?"
She grinned wide. For a moment she appeared as youthful and eager as that seventeen-year-old girl he bedded six decades before.
"It's a sign, John."