The sentences on the page blurred into opaque black lines as Callie's eyes tried to fixate on the words, she squinted them to focus. Her math professor’s monotone voice dragged on despite the class's apparent lack of interest. The window was open. A cool breeze gently hit her face, occasionally taking a bit of her vibrant red hair with it. That’s what it said on the package, vibrant red. She twirled a strand around her finger. The clock mocked her, it extended every second as long and tedious as it could muster. The bell shrieked through the corridors and a swarming of voices erupted around her. Callie kept her eyes on her backpack while rapidly shoveling down her papers, so harshly that they wrinkled and tore. She was in a hurry, she was told to come at 4:40. Callie Davis slung her backpack over her right shoulder and walked out.
An explosion of heat hit her as the plastic doors shredded open. It must have been one of the hottest days in Seattle. She tried to get past the people rushing out, but it seemed to be nearly impossible. They all must have been in a hurry too. The clock showed just past 4:30, she wouldn't make it. Callie glanced around the subway, all the seats were taken. She leaned into the corner while simultaneously grabbing one of the cold metal handrails. It was like a dance. A dance she performed every day, but especially on Tuesdays.
By adjusting her grip, her fingers slowly became less sweaty. Her eyes bored out the window as the subway headed to the next stop. Every time Callie visited, the feeling that all was lost grew. Every week her grandma got a little bit worse. Margot had always loved to talk, and Callie tried to keep the tradition up. Even when she mixed up the dates and details, Callie was always her number-one listener. She tried to follow along by nods and smiles to keep her engaged, even though it was difficult to keep up sometimes. It was a jumble of stories that didn't make sense. Callie imagined that everything she told her was memories from the old days, before the sickness swallowed her. The brief moments of her grandma’s recall often caught her off guard, but before she knew it, she fell back into that looming fog
This was her stop, Pearson Street. Once again, her backpack took place over her shoulder. Callie waited for the doors to open, impatiently tapping her foot on the rubber floors. With a creak the doors shut open. Almost running, she crossed the turnstile, heading right.
Margot held up her feet and wiggled them, showing off her new blue shoes, cozy and soft for her feet.
“My granddaughter got them for me,” she told a nursing home attendant, joyful. Her face brightened as she saw Callie in the hallway. Of course, Callie didn’t know if it was her granddaughter she saw or someone entirely else. Her dirty Doc martins left a trail on the clinical clean floors as she approached.
“Calliope is here to see you Margot” the nurse informed, giving Callie a don’t be late next time kind of look. It may have seemed a bit harsh, but it was true, every minute wasted was a lost opportunity.
“You know you shouldn’t walk in with your shoes dear; you’ll get the floor all dirty”
Margot reached for her purse, pulling up a pair of pink silk slippers.
“You can borrow these” she dramatically sighed, accompanied by a smile.
Who am I today? Her mom? Her nurse? An old colleague or friend? She thought. She admitted that her usual stubborn optimism had grown fainter and fainter over the months. Callie didn’t know what was more terrifying anymore, being forgotten or forgetting herself. A year ago, Callie was sure her grandma was the exception, she was healthy and strong. Never had any surgery complications or diseases. She was a ray of sunshine, the sun itself. Back in the day, she had a thousand lovers, sailed from continent to continent. Her grandmother was always on board with an adventure, and so had her grandfather been. Age was never an obstacle; she captured age and made it her own. Played with it, teased it, and mastered it. She was the drama, the life of the party. Never a dull moment by the side of Margot Davis. In Callie's mind, her grandmother would never, ever forget her. How could she? She felt betrayed, erased, like none of their memories together had mattered in the end. Can you truthfully say you shared a memory together if you’re the only one remembering it? It felt strange being the only one responsible to keep them alive if she forgot, then who would be the reminder? A wave of guilt washed over her. She knew her grandma struggled, fought the black mist clouding her head. It was wrong to hold her accountable.
"Grandma, how are you, any stories to tell? It’s me Calliope", she said with the usual hopeful tone, by now it sounded forced. e
“Honey I'm not blind, I can see who you are, I'm not dying just yet,” she said with a scoff and a laugh, patting the side of the bed for her to sit down.
Callie stood in utter shock. A glance of hope and excitement rushed through her body. What was happening? She leaned to the nurse and whispered.
“Is she really lucid?”
The nurse nodded.
“She’s been lucid for about half an hour now; I was afraid she would fall back before you came here. This might be her last time of lucidity, ” she gave a compassionate expression. “ we try to keep her brain active by talking, terminally lucid patients often lose themselves in their silence, then there is difficulty ever bringing them back”
There was an awkwardly long pause, it seemed to go on forever. Then the forbidden words were said. “ Alzheimer's will beat her at last, and this might be that day”
Callie glanced towards the withering woman sitting on the hospital bed before her. She didn’t dare to look the nurse in the eyes. The nurse took the hint.
“Tell me if you need anything”
She gave a last pitiful smile, then walked away.
“Calliope, it’s been a while, don't keep me waiting!” Margot laughed while taking a sip of water, raising her arms for an embrace.
Calliope, only grandma called her that. It had been a long time since she last heard that name. She had missed it. Her name had always been Callie, ever since first grade. It is not only easier to pronounce, but also to spell and remember. Most people didn’t even know that her real name is Calliope.
Callie didn’t answer. Instead, she hugged her, tight. Wrapped her arms around the frail shell of a woman and cried. She cried and cried, until her eyes were swelled and red, until mascara smudged on the white hospital gown. “ Honey what’s wrong?”, her grandmother asked, gently patting Callie's head. She wiped her tears away with her hand, smiling. “ I have just had a very very bad day, and seeing you has made it so much better”.
“I feel like I haven’t seen you in months” Margot continued, smiling softly.
“It feels like I haven’t seen you in years” Callie laughed, tears threatening to run down her cheeks. She rubbed her eyes, once again ruining her black eye makeup of the day.
Her grandma had no idea that her brain was tearing itself apart. And today Calliope didn’t have the heart to remind her.
“Do you want to play some board games? I know they have your favorite on the shelf over there” She smiled her best smile, the one she knew her grandma loved. A youthful smile, full of hope and dreams. She turned to the shelf, trying to keep the fantasy going. Do this, she told herself, do this for your grandma, do this for Mags. Callie wanted her grandma to leave this world in peace and joy, not by seeing her grandchild grieve her death before it had happened. She had to keep her talking, keep her engaged.
The hours went by. One hour, two hours. All Callie could think about was, how much longer until she forgets me again. How much longer until nothing could be understood? It was like slowly pressing a nail into a balloon, knowing it would pop any second. How much longer until there wasn’t anything to remember anymore? Until she wasn’t just confused and forgetting memories anymore, but when there were none left to forget.
They talked and talked, then talked some more. Every time she caught Margot slipping out of the conversation, she quickly asked a question. Remember that time you colored your hair green to prove to me that green hair could be pulled off? Tell me about when you and grandpa sailed over the Atlantic. Tell me your life story. Every time she left for a bathroom break, Callie's heart stopped, imagining her returning confused and dazed. But instead, she came back complaining that they’d changed the toilet paper to the “wrong type”
After a while, Callie fully fell for her own fantasy. They laughed as if they were back at home, drinking lemonade on the balcony, gossiping about the other elders across the apartment. Her "enemies", she used to call them. She laughed at the memories until she realized she was the only one laughing. It had happened. A small wrinkle between Margot's eyebrows had formed. Her previous expression had disappeared and confusion took its place. Her eyes traced the cards in her hands, then curiously set her eyes upon Callie.
Margot stared at an unfamiliar room. Unfamiliar people were talking to her. People were walking all over the place, but she didn’t remember where she was. Everything seemed familiar, but she just couldn’t recognize anything. All these people were suddenly trying to talk to her, but she didn’t know who they were, or what they were talking about. A girl was crying beside her, she didn't recognize her face. She stared at her reflection. She stared at a fading memory. A memory that would soon be forgotten along with the knowledge of her existence. She felt as if she had entered a home, but couldn’t find her way out. It all seemed comforting, but it slowly became the same thing, and then it became nothing. Margot Robbins was sitting there, a shell of the person she used to be.