I started writing this for my creative writing class that I was taking during the fall 2015 semester at UMass. I never did get around to finishing it, but I think it’s kind of powerful even as is. If you like, have a read of it, and let me know what you think. The formatting is unfortunately all messed up, but it’s still readable, I think. I’m putting a poll at the bottom for you to let me know what you think; please let me know! I might incorporate some of these ideas into Hiraeth.
The air was heavy and thick, but when the wind blew, it cut through the stillness with a chill that rattled leaves and sent icy fingers running down spines. It was that time of year where summer slowly bleeds into fall, the way the multicolored hues of a sunset blend with each other. The activity level of the small Western Pennsylvania neighborhood mirrored the lazy haziness of the weather; virtually everyone was inside, though occasionally the miniature Schnauzer at the end of the cul-de-sac would bark at a leaf drifting by or a squirrel would dart over the top of one of the numerous identical white picket fences.
It was an idyllic, pleasant community located a good hour’s drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic from the nearest city. The homes were all squat and painted in unassuming pastel tones, each boasting a well-manicured lawn that ran evenly over the ground until it met its respective fence. A small child with her wavy blond hair in pigtails played quietly in her mother’s lap in the grass in front of the home with the Schnauzer. Her chubby cheeks, pushed upwards by her wide grin, scrunched her eyes into sparkling crescents of amusement.
A sudden sound ricocheted through the air, cutting through it far more sharply than the breeze. Startled, the child pressed closer to her mother with a cry; the latter stoof and pivoted a full 360 degrees, anxiously scanning for the source of the noise. In the kitchen of the house immediately on the left, Annabel knelt down amongst shards of broken glass, carefully sweeping them into a pile. A single drop of ruby red blood dripped the length of her index finger and then fell to where it glimmered disconcertingly up at her. She stared at it vacantly. With a great clattering, David came rushing down the stairs, arms spreadeagled as if he were trying to steady himself with two invisible walls. “What happened?” he asked in between heaving breaths.
“I dropped a glass,” Annabel murmured, feeling the explanation was entirely unnecessary but providing it all the same. “I’m fine, don’t worry.”
David’s face crumpled into relief. “Alright. Go wash your hands, I’ll clean it up.” Ignoring Annabel’s half-hearted insistence that really, she was fine, and could take care of it herself, he stepped around his wife and began sweeping the broken shards into a dustpan. Annabel stood watching for a moment and then retreated into the adjacent living room. She slowly settled herself into the couch, fingers tracing the small worn patch on the armrest, tucking her knees close to her chest in an effort to make herself as compact as possible. From this position she could relax into the familiarity of the fabric, feeling the way the cushion had started to conform to the curve of her spine from all the times she had sunk into it this way. In front of her was a rectangular coffee table with a small brass lamp on it. On the whole it was small and plain looking, but there were a few ornate carvings and sculpted pieces adorning it that were actually quite delicately beautiful.
Annabel leaned forward to switch it on, frowning as she noticed the dust that had started to gather in places on its surface. The light gave the room a warm, cheery glow, but the faint crease between her eyebrows stayed determinedly put. She tried a first time. The memory of the glass in her hand was so distinct she could practically feel the smooth, cold surface cupped against her skin. The Schnauzer was working itself into a frenzy over a leaf drifting languidly towards the ground. Her next door neighbor and her daughter were sitting in the grass near the Schnauzer; the little girl clapped her hands together and burbled with excitement every time the dog jumped. Her eyes were lit up with the same happiness held in her smile, which was a miniaturized mirror of her mother’s.
The glass was gone. Annabel closed her eyes briefly and tried again. The glass, the dog, the neighbors, the happiness. The nothingness. A third time brought her crashing into the wall of blankness even sooner; this time there was no dog. Her brow furrowed more deeply. She had been sure they owned a dog. A Jack Russell, wasn’t it? Or a Schnauzer?
David glanced into the living room hesitantly, setting only one foot beyond the moulded entryway. His wife was muttering something to herself; her lips pursed and pressed together in a pattern of syllables over and over again. Coming to sit beside her, he gently took her hand in his and carefully splayed her fingers out so he could locate the one she had cut. “You’re bleeding, hon,” he said softly.
Annabel started and shifted her eyes to his worried face, then down to her finger and back up to him again. A barely audible, “Oh,” escaped her.
“Anna,” David began. He paused, noticing her beginning to shrink away the way she always did now. “Anna, what happened?”
She glowered stubbornly at him. “I told you. I dropped a glass. That’s all.” He sighed and repeatedly himself with greater insistence. “What happened?” This time, she sat staring unblinkingly at him for a moment, then sagged heavily against him with a rattling exhale. “It happened, Dave. It happened again. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize,” he soothed her, keeping his gaze fixated on a spot on the wall opposite the couch just visible above her dark, wavy hair. His voice was calm and even, though there was a tinge of rigidity to it, as if he’d spoken the same exact words multiple times before. He had, of course. Annabel gave no sign of recognition except a quiet sniffle and a tiny bob of her head. “You have nothing to be sorry about,” he added as a clumsily redundant afterthought. She nodded again, a bit more forcefully this time.
“Mom? Are you okay?”
Annabel lifted her head at the interjection, resting her chin on David’s shoulder and her eyes on their daughter, whose silky blond hair was falling into her inquisitive expression. “I’m fine, Li. Don’t worry.” Pushing her hair behind her ear, Liana came to stand next to her parents. It was easily apparent how much she looked like her mother; they had the same straight, deftly shaped nose, narrow cheekbones, and a chin that tapered into a soft point. But her eyes were distinctly like her father’s. Right now, they were even trained on her with the same concerned glimmer in their depths. “Okay, Mom,” Liana replied. Her eyes continued to belie her acquiescence as she accepted her mother’s hug and followed her out of the living room with David just a couple steps behind.
A few minutes later found the three of them in the kitchen, Liana helping David cobble together a salad from a slightly random assortment of ingredients and Annabel standing in front of the fridge. Every so often she would reach out as if to grab something, then frown, retract her arm, and repeat the process momentarily. David had long since given up on reminding her to check the sauce for the pasta. Instead, he paced a methodical path across the wooden floor from the stovetop to the counter where Liana stood.
So often the people who appear the strongest are the ones who are enduring the greatest struggles, but seldom does the world acknowledge the toll fighting an everyday battle is taking on them. In David’s case, though, it was painfully observable. His shoulders slumped and his back slouched as if he were permanently carrying an invisible weight and the dark circles under his eyes seemed liable to never fade. But the most heartrending reality of them all was the general air of brokenness about him that revealed just how desperately destructive it was to love someone who was slowly disappearing right before his eyes. When Annabel had first come home almost two years ago with tears and terror etched on her face, David had promised he would do everything he could to take care of her. Back then neither of them had really understood the implications her eventual diagnosis carried; there was something about the phrase “early-onset” that made the Alzheimer’s seem simultaneously more frightening and demure all at once. David had resigned from his job in the city in order to take care of his family and their home. At first it had even seemed possible for him to bear. The memory lapses were rare and generally innocuous enough that he could dismiss them whenever Liana asked.