Welcome to my latest contribution to Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge. It’s been too long since I did one of these. I was getting super antsy.
That’s like regular antsy, except I’m wearing a cape.
We were to select one of ten random sentences and use it in a short story. I chose: The memory we used to share is no longer coherent. So be on the lookout for that.
Cowboys and Songs
I enter the building and walk down the sterile hall, harshly lit with fluorescent bulbs. Two nurses jabber on behind a desk, pausing to grin at me, I assume in greeting. They’re wearing white uniforms, and three boxes of latex gloves sit on the high counter, ready for immediate use.
It would be nice if they at least tried to not make the place feel like an institution.
I mindlessly enter room 134, as I have every other day for the past three years. Roger sleeps in the bed, still in pajamas, though it’s three in the afternoon.
I stand next to the bed. His so-called “caretakers” hadn’t bothered to shave him since I was last here. His face looks like an old cactus. “Rog, wake up. I’m here to see you.”
He stirs, squints, and eventually focuses on me. “Who? Who’s there?”
“Betty, dear. Your wife.” I pull up the rolling stool the doctor must use when he wants to see if Roger’s mental state has improved. So far, no luck.
“Wife?” He sits up on his elbows. “Well, I’ll be damned.”
“You say that every time. Here, I brought you something.” Reaching into the bag, I pull out his collector’s helmet, the one signed by every player on the 1972 Dallas Cowboys roster. Bringing sentimental items from home could help, they say. “Remember this?”
“Aw, hell yeah!” Taking the helmet from me, he chuckles and coughs. “That was a hell of a game, you know?”
He spends the next ten minutes rambling on about specific plays from the season that occurred forty-three years ago. I wish I could be as delighted as he at the flood of memories.
Out of desperation, I grab our fifty-five-year-old wedding photograph from the bedside table. “What about this, Rog? Do you remember this?”
He takes the picture and analyzes it, looks at me, and grins. “This is you, ain’t it?”
“Yes, and you’re the handsome fellow standing next to me.”
“No shit.” He stares a few more seconds. “How’d I land a looker like you?”
I sit on the edge of the bed. “It had something to do with a raccoon and the dumpster at my apartment building.”
He laughs, and for the thousandth time, I retell the story of our meeting. It doesn’t jog any memories for him. For me, the memory we used to share is no longer coherent – the emotional cousin it used to bring along is no longer there. I’m retelling facts, like a news report. The man who’d played a starring role drifted away from me years ago.
“Sounds like a hell of a meeting,” he says.
“It was.” I pat his hand and stand.
“You sure that was me?”
“I’m sure.” I pick up the helmet. “Want me to leave this here?”
“Oh, yeah.” He takes it again, like he’s seeing it for the first time. “That was a hell of a game. Did you see it?”
I don’t want to be angry, but it’s harder to ignore these days. More than half a century I’ve spent with this man, and I’m a ghost to him. Less than a memory. If only I were the 1972 Cowboys.
I leave the helmet on the end table, replacing the wedding picture, which I put into my bag. He has no use for it.
I kiss him on the forehead. “I’ll see you again in a couple days. Tell someone you need a shave.”
He laughs. “Eh, it don’t matter. Who’s gonna see me?”
I pat his cheek and turn around.
“What was that song?” he asks as I’m reaching the door.
“Yeah, there was a song. In the raccoon story. What was that? You didn’t say anything about it.” He hums a familiar melody line.
My heart races as hope invades, a feeling I barely recognize.
I walk back towards his bed and sing along with his melody. When we reach the end of the chorus, we both sing, “P.S. I love you.”
A lump forms in my throat.
“Aw, hon. I didn’t mean to upset you.” He wipes my cheek with his thumb.
For a brief moment, he’s the man in the photograph. My Roger. The one who saved me from the scary raccoon, who married me a year later, who was the father of our five children. He remembers.
I kiss him again, and before I leave the room, I put the photograph back on the table, in front of the Cowboys helmet.