Last year’s entries in the mags4dorset Creative Writing Awards were so outstanding that as well as the winner of the short story competition, the judges, Carol Rivers and Martin Baum, chose two highly commended stories. Here is one of them: ‘In Sickness and in Health’ by Phyllis Higgins from Frome.
In Sickness and in Health
BY PHYLLIS HIGGINS
As I said to What’s His Name on Saturday – or was it Sunday – life’s… life’s something or other.
As I said to What’s His Name when I saw him on Saturday life’s very odd these days.
The older I get, the stranger it seems to become. For instance, my wife, Jane, has suddenly taken to hiding every day objects away for no apparent reason
I looked for the shoe polish the other day and it wasn’t where it should be. Jane was out at the time and I had to search all the kitchen cupboards before I found it.
I suppose I should have mentioned this to her, but when you’ve been married for thirty years, you can forgive the odd lapse. When you love someone, you don’t want to embarrass them or make them feel that you’re criticising them.
It’s not the only time she’s done something like that. Recently, I was looking for the bread to make a sandwich and that wasn’t where it should be either. I was starving because it was three o`clock and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I don’t know why I didn’t have lunch. I remember going upstairs to do something and the next thing I knew I was feeling famished.
Sometimes I’ve caught Jane looking at me in a questioning sort of way. Once I asked her why. She quickly changed her frown to a smile and gave me a hug. Not just any hug, but one she might have given me if I’d just come back from being away for six months. I like it, of course, but it’s puzzling behaviour.
Last Friday, or it may have been Thursday, she acted strangely. I’d gone to the shops to buy a bottle of milk. When I got back she surprised me by flying at me and flinging her arms around my neck. I saw there were tears in her eyes. She told me they were tears of relief that I’d come home safely.
‘But I’ve only been to the shops,’ I said. ‘Did you think aliens had kidnapped me off the High Street?’
‘I was so worried. I phoned everywhere I thought you might be. No one had seen you. Anyway, where’s the milk?’
She had me there. My bag was empty. I remember going into the Co-op. Perhaps the magazines had distracted me and I had forgotten to buy a bottle.
‘I’ll go back again.’
‘No! No! Stay here and I’ll use powdered milk for our tea.’
Next day, Jane suggested making an appointment for me to see Dr Vine.
‘What do I want to see him for?’
‘Just for a check up. Your memory’s not so good lately, but they have drugs now that can help. I’ll come with you.’
Reluctantly I agreed to see the doctor. Maybe I could have a word with him about Jane’s odd behaviour.
I forgot all about the appointment until the day came. When we set off in the car, I was sure Jane was driving me to a dental check up, so I was surprised when we arrived at the doctors’ surgery.
Dr Vine asked me all sorts of questions that I thought I answered quite well. So you can imagine what a shock it was when he said that he suspected I might be developing Alzheimer’s disease.
‘I’ll arrange for you to have some more thorough tests. Don’t worry too much. We have lots of drugs and therapies in our arsenal these days that can help.’
The word “Alzheimer’s” kept echoing inside my head. It was all I could think about. I don’t even remember Jane driving me home. I collapsed into my chair.
Other people get Alzheimer’s, not me. It was terrible, terrible.
Then I stopped thinking about myself and thought of Jane. The burden of caring for me would fall on her. If I got bad, I probably wouldn’t know anything about it, but she could end up looking after a dribbly, child-like man, someone who looked like her husband, but didn’t act like him. I might become cantankerous, or even violent.
She brought me a cup of tea. As I stared at her putting it gently down beside me, I couldn’t stop a tear running down my cheek.
She smiled at me. ‘Don’t worry, love, whatever happens you know I’ll always be there for you.’
Suddenly her arms were around me and we held on to each other for a long time.
After our embrace I felt a lot better and wiped away my tears.
‘I could do with a cup of tea. Are you going to put the kettle on, Jane?’
She smiled a weak smile and pointed at the cup on the table and gave my hand a squeeze. A new phase of life is opening up for us. Heaven knows what the future holds, but it’s a comfort to know that Jane will be with me every step of the way.