By Ciaran J. McLarnon
The shortest distance between any two points is a straight line. Gladstone had this in mind as he aimed to walk down the middle of the corridor. He wasn’t sure why he was going to the dining room anymore, but he a deep sense that whatever he had to do there wouldn’t take long, so he had to be sure that he could get away quickly. The middle route will be closest to the exit, he reasoned, although as he got closer to the dining room, he grew more uncertain that the room would have another way out.
Gladstone studied the people that he passed by as he shuffled down the corridor; gaunt faces that seemed familiar, some with knowing smiles; yet he couldn’t recall where he had seen them before, perhaps he had just imagined their meeting. He turned slowly and sighed; moving towards the window to avoid someone who was getting too close. A hand clapped him on the shoulder; Gladstone turned to see a smiling face, a face whose name could almost remember.
‘It’s me, Bernard,’ said the face as Gladstone returned the smile, ‘Where are you going today?’
Gladstone creased his brow, looking intently at the face for a moment, ‘Oh yes, Bernard. I’m just going to see about my medication. Is there a nurse in the dining room still? Will you be in the place soon?’
‘The living room? Yes, I think so. But I must go back to the dining room first, I forgot something.’
‘We’ll walk together then,’ said Gladstone as shuffled further along the deep red carpet. It contrasted sharply with the brilliant white of the window frames that propped up the iron-grey clouds that filled the sky beyond. Bernard followed behind his friend, careful not to get too close.
Bernard looked out the window, slowing his pace to match Gladstone’s, and to the path that led up to their home. The trees were again showing leaves, the Daffodils had receded, replaced in the garden by Lavender and Sweet Pea. The sunlight streamed through the window, bringing a warmth his bones hadn’t felt in many months. ‘Won’t be long now until we can enjoy the summer,’ he said to Gladstone.
‘Yes, it will be nice to go for a walk in the garden.’
As the heat of the Sun had enlivened his bones, seeing his granddaughter Molly rejuvenated Bernard’s spirit. She strode along the garden appearing, as always, like an adventurer arriving to rescue him from the doldrums. She looked up and smiled at him as she passed into the foyer, or perhaps he just hoped she had. Why she is here? Wondered Bernard.
Soon there was the sound of rapid footsteps ascending the stairs, Bernard turned around. He allowed himself a faint smile when he discovered it was Molly gently making her presence known. The young women had pulled her chestnut hair into a tight bun; she wore a navy suit and a white blouse. Bernard knew the other residents who would soon clump around the window soon, they always did; eager to see the woman who reminded them of something they couldn’t quite place. They liked to see someone whose lips weren’t thin and puckered; someone who had skin that was unblemished by the spots and moles that appeared as time advanced and possessed skin still thick enough to hide the veins running through her hands and fingers
‘Good to see you again dear! To what do I owe the pleasure?’
‘Morning Grandad.’ Molly nestled in the crook of his arm as they strolled towards the strange smell of stewed tea mixed with bleach, ‘Do you think you’ll be seeing Gran today?’
‘Oh, I always do. Might leave it until this afternoon though.’ Bernard moved closer to whisper in Molly’s ear, ‘Gladstone seems a bit off today.’
‘Oh, that’s a shame, I thought I could chat with him, if he wasn’t too busy. I don’t have too much time this morning, I need to visit the university, but I’ll be back to visit Gran.’
‘A little chat might do Gladstone the world of good. I’m sure your Gran will be glad to see you too. You are good; but don’t spread yourself too thin.’
‘I could say the same to you! Do you even remember you’re ill?’
‘I try not too! I to keep busy, keep my mind on things…And once a medic, always a medic.’
‘I remember, half my scraped knees were probably bandaged by you. Is that Gladstone ahead of us? Why are you so far behind him? Are you two still arguing?
‘Not anymore. I don’t think either of us can remember what the argument was about.’
At the end of the corridor the pair turned into the dining room. By mid-morning the breakfast dishes had been cleared away from the circular serving tables and were piled on the Formica counter that separated dining hall and kitchen; the grey laminate flooring was almost dry, streaked from recent cleaning. The room was unoccupied, apart from Gladstone rocking back and forth on his feet, as if swaying in a breeze. He slowly turned, looking for something. ‘I can’t find the door I was looking for,’ Gladstone muttered as he hurried back towards the door he entered from. Molly and Bernard sighed in unison, and then tittered as their eyes met.
Molly sat on a sofa and beckoned Bernard to join her. ‘I’ll catch up with Gladstone later,’ she assured him before he cautiously sat down. She talked to her Grandad for a time, reminding him she would be back to visit Gran that afternoon. She eventually looked at her watch and said, ‘I need to leave for the University soon, so I better have a chat with Gladstone now.’
‘I hope the University have good news, but if you need anything you only have to ask.’
‘Thanks, Grandad, but I should be fine. They probably just want to tell me how good my research project was. I handed in the report last week.’
‘Glad to hear that you and my Grandad are speaking again. I think friends are important, more so when your family so far away.’ Gladstone’s room had a view of the garden outside, and the arrow of sunlight coming through the window lit up the chair that faced him.
‘With Maude gone things have been…difficult…I don’t see the boys anymore. They have their own families, that’s what I get for encouraging them to travel.’
‘Where are they now?’
‘Mmm, the oldest married a girl in Germany; and Clive is in South Africa.’
‘Goodness! And Grandad complains that he has to travel two hours to see his brother!’
‘Well, I see them once a year, I don’t expect any more; it’s very expensive. I’ve tried to talk to them on the video, but it’s not the same.’ Molly listened to Gladstone’s tales, about his wife, and then about his sons, prodding his memory when she needed to.
‘And where is Rachel now?’
‘Your daughter, you mentioned her before. We can go over the tapes again if you’d like.’
‘You can’t mention her to Maude! She threw me out because of that, on the street for a month I was. I thought Maude would never forgive me, she took me back for the boys. I don’t think they know even now, and don’t mention Rachel in front of Maude for goodness sake.’
‘I won’t mention it; but you should try to reconnect with Rachel. Wouldn’t you like that? She could tell you all about your grandchildren.’
‘Yes, she told me she would visit next week. Do you remember you asked me about it? But don’t worry, I’ll be here too. I’m sure she’d like to hear about your family. What can you tell her?’
Molly gave a sigh as she turned off the ignition in the School of Medicine carpark. She checked her reflection in the mirror, pushing stray hairs behind her ears, before grabbing the copy of her report that lay on the passenger seat. She wondered if Gladstone would forget his meeting with Rachel next week. She had asked the staff to remind him and she would do so herself just in case; but his dementia wasn’t so advanced that he couldn’t recall important things. Not like her Gran, sometimes Molly struggled to remember a time when the older women could hold any thought.
But She always had a smile when Molly visited her, that was enough. And she had Grandad too; luckily the family could afford for him to stay close. Molly took a deep breath and smiled at herself in the rear-view mirror, she would visit her Gran with her Grandad this afternoon. Molly dabbed her eyes with a tissue, composing herself before she walked towards the university buildings; the knot in her stomach cinched tighter each step. Sometimes she worried she was getting an ulcer.
‘Molly Kennedy,’ announced the bearded receptionist, and Molly rose from her plastic seat. She picked up her notebook and thesis from the ground beside her; smiling at the sullen faces of the classmates she was leaving in the corridor.
‘Take a seat please, Molly’ smiled a woman sitting behind a desk littered with papers spilling from over-worked in/out trays and several dated laptops stamped with ‘Property of the Department of Medicine’.
‘First, your report is excellent, and on a subject that seems to receive more attention every day. But there are few things you should consider. First off, you need to change the title – ‘The Atlas of Disappearing Places’ isn’t an appropriate title for a piece of research.’
Molly shifted in her seat, leaning towards her tutor ‘How so?’
‘Well’, sighed the woman, ‘I think it’s clever, but you need something more technical. Something like ‘Methods of Memory Retention for Dementia Patients.’ Just describe the content in the clearest possible terms, that’s enough.
‘Okay,’ shrugged Molly, leaning back again, ‘anything else?’
‘I also have concerns about your methods of data collection, particularly as regards sensitive personal information. You should consider the ethical implications of all your research.’
‘Yes Sharon, I remember your classes.’
‘Good, I think you need more on how your collection methods dealt with these considerations, maybe a copy of the forms you used to get patient consent? You ‘ve only a few paragraphs on ways to maintain confidentiality, you need more. Can you get me a few pages next week?’
‘Sure, that won’t be a problem!’ said Molly, rubbing her neck, ‘I’ll do it over the weekend.’
‘I know it’s a lot to gather all your records in a few days and produce something, but it’s important to deal with this as soon as we can.’
‘It’s fine,’ assured Molly, smiling through gritted teeth, ‘I have all the records, it won’t take me long to write the pages.’
‘But you have laid out your ideas very well, and the retirement community has provided some excellent case studies. You will get a very good mark, I’m sure of it.’
‘Thank-you,’ replied Molly, rising to leave.
She would tell everyone the interview went well, that her tutor had many positive things to say; but the sinking feeling was in the pit of Molly’s stomach. But Molly liked the idea all the same, there was a story in the nursing home, and she would be the one to tell it. The recordings were the point anyway, not the report; and the university could never take them away. She just needed a few more words from Gladstone, a few memories of Rachel perhaps, and then she would have the real Atlas. ‘Just do it, there’ll be problems either way’, was what her granny had said a few years before; Molly wished she had recordings now.
‘Hello grandad,’ she said as she knocked on his door.
‘Molly! What are you doing here?’
‘Do you remember I visited earlier today? I’m just coming back from the university, so I thought I would visit again.’
‘The university! What did they want?’
‘Just wanted to talk about my report, my tutor thinks it’s very good. Grandad, do you remember that key you gave me before?’
Molly’s Grandad smiled and nodded.
‘Do you think I could borrow it again; I just need to get some more records?’
Bernard gave his granddaughter a conspiratorial wink, ‘If I can remember where I put it! You should sneak into the office in the morning, there aren’t many here then. Do you want me to distract the staff?’
‘Don’t go getting into any trouble,’ warned Molly, ‘otherwise you may not get to see granny so often.’
Molly and Bernard were walking back along the hall that linked the medical and residential wards. Bernard looked over at his granddaughter. She was distant, jumping back a little when he asked if she was okay.
‘I suppose,’ said Molly when she composed herself, ‘but she looked very down today. Have you noticed a change in her?’
‘I have to say she is much the same. I suppose you just get used to things, like her constant complaining that the nurses are stealing her money, though I take care of that now. It is a while since she had two visitors at one time, maybe that was the problem: I’m sure it’s very tiring for her. But she remembered my name today.’
‘But not mine,’ countered Molly.
‘Still, things seemed little better today. You must get over to Gladstone, I’m sure the recordings will be great help his family.’
‘I did have a chat with him this morning, but once I have the records, I think I will finish with him. And I have something to do with him next week. I think I saw the keys in top drawer of your beside cabinet; I’ll get the records tomorrow morning.’
She would have to move fast if she wanted to save to save her degree. Molly made her move to get into the ward office When Gladstone and Bernard started an argument in Gladstone’s room, pulling the attention the staff to the end of the hall; allowing Molly to slide in unnoticed. She had taken patient records before; she went straight for the drawer she needed. All she wanted was signatures, copies of their handwriting so she could make forgeries. She’d a lot of practice, her grandparents had been teaching her for as long as she could remember.
She had the tightening in her stomach again; wondering what the outcome might be. As Molly walked up the path into the home, she looked around the car park to see if she could see any cars she didn’t recognise. Not that it will be made much difference; it wasn’t as if she was going to turn on walk away if she will like Rachel was driving a car that she didn’t like. Molly walked in as the automatic door into the foyer slid open and checked her watch. It was still a few minutes before 3, the time when she agreed to meet Rachel; she was a little surprised when the woman sitting in the brown fabric chairs of the foyer rose to greet her.
The women with short, brown hair seemed to be in her thirties and smiled at Molly; tilting her head to one side as she said, ‘Are you Molly?’
Before Molly could even answer she thrust her handout in greeting, ‘I’m Rachel, Rachel Meadows,’ she said, ‘I think we talked on the phone?’
‘Oh yes, glad you could make it.’
‘Not at all. But I was very surprised to hear from you; I haven’t spoken to my dad in years. How did you get my number?’
Ciaran J. McLarnon is a writer from Northern Ireland. He lives in Ballymena, a town close to the North-East coast. He has written on many subjects, and is currently interested in Dark and Personal Stories. His stories have recently been published in AHF (Alternative History Fiction), Gold Dust magazine and Adelaide Literary Magazine.