1. The First Grey
He was talking to Noah about the farmhouse when he dropped a question about “the lady from upstairs” with a remarkably casually disdain, leaving a palpable anxiety in its wake. Noah, however, only stifled a laugh and told him that Keira had already left for work.
Sitting at the archaic rotary, listening to another one of my colossal clan, this time my ostentatious sister, ramble on about her illustrious affairs in the ‘Big City’, I unconsciously drew a single line on the telephone book.
2. And Again
At 4:30 in the evening, he stumbled out of the bedroom in his signature ivory pajamas, blinking away the remains of his siesta, and flashed me his trademark grin.
“Are you done with your tea, already?”, he enquired, plopping down on the make-shift sofa where we had spent countless mornings sipping away our sleep, raising an eyebrow,at the empty table; a crease cutting through his forehead when he found neither his cup nor mine.
“Can you pass me today’s papers then?”, he resignedly requested, only sighing at my prolonged silence, typically unassuming of its
“Oh. They..umm..haven’t been delivered yet,”, I spluttered.
Later that night when I was clearing up his desk somehow the telephone book ended up in my hands and before I knew it I had added a second line to it.
And thus began the tally.
3. Strike Three
The third line in the book is still distinctly etched in my mind because it was the last one made when keeping count was still a possibility, albeit an obscure one.
The news of Henry’s death had taken two days to reach us because he had been dead for one whole day before the police found his body, feigning sleep on his favourite armchair.It was three more days before we could muster the courage to break the news to him.
I watched his curls ruffle in the early autumn breeze as his brow furrowed in a concentrated look he had only when thinking of cars or good food.
“Where was he from?”, he finally voiced.
Neither then. His other fond hobby as well as habit was to dig up people’s roots, from family trees to birthplaces and fifth generation cousins, thrice and again removed, hailing from the towns and cities he knew only too well.
“England. He had been living in England.”
“Really? You know, my brother lives in England.” He’s quite alone there, as he’s divorced now. He has two kids though who live in Canada.”
Yes, I thought, the vermin who had abandoned their father long before he was six feet under, scorning his love and spurning his company.
“Would you be a dear and remind me to call him up later?”
“Okay.”, I whispered, as a strong gust of wind blew away the remnants of the crimson leaves, the last of the Halloween candy wrappers and all semblance of coherence.
4. The Crescendo
It was long after all was known and accepted and an uneasy familiarity created that I was truly punched in the gut by what was happening.
Noah had already left for the office and Keira was wrapping up her breakfast when I entered the dining hall, running late for a Wednesday meeting at the club.
He was scowling at the burnt fried eggs on his plate mumbling about ‘that slacker of a maid’ when he saw me and exclaimed,
“Aren’t you all decked up and gorgeous ? Is it your wedding day?”
I stopped in my tracks and stared, gobsmacked. Stared till I had assured myself that it was the same man, him, not somebody else who had asked the question, stared till I realised he was staring right back waiting for a response.
“No..”, I breathed, “not today.”
At the last occasion that we ever celebrated, he met a comrade from the ‘golden days’ after decades and spent the evening recounting tales that were now as familiar to me as the smell of his decadent perfume.
An old friend of the family, listening in on the conversation, turned to me and affectionately mused,
“He has a remarkable memory, doesn’t he?”
Choking back the engulfing hysteria, I hushedly gave my assent.
The glinting ’50’ on the cake caused many a well-wisher to come over and remark,
“You don’t know how lucky you are.”
They say there is nothing more agonising than being the one left behind.
But I had soothed him as he begged, cajoled and pleaded to be taken back to our hometown, a place we had not left in more than half a century. I have seen his children turn casual acquaintances and the distinction between the known and the strange fade into oblivion. I have watched, I have listened and we have lived.
My husband died today and yet I could not stop relief from coursing through my veins for just one tiny, forgettable but not forgivable, moment. They say this is agonising but it has been nothing but heartbreaking to see a lifetime disappear right in front of my eyes because they don’t know that, for me, the end had begun the very first time he forgot my name.