After Melinda passed away, I inherited the house. I knew my way in and out with this thick, beautiful cottage in the woods with the outstanding personality – I had spent much of my life here, learning about the land and helping Mindy whenever possible. She hadn’t wanted much help when she was alive, but her forgetfulness kept her from doing the things she loved most and I watched her fade away into a person I barely even knew.
When the Alzheimer’s was at its worst, she retreated to her bedroom a lot where she would spend a lot of time doing the things she loved most, if she could remember. Her knitting and crochet were failing; little snippets of things she worked on would stay snippets instead of becoming beautiful blankets or sweaters for the great grandkids. She looked helpless and I knew she felt helpless as well, but there was little I could do for her than be there for moral support.
She was gone. So I’d pour a bowl of my plain old cereal again and I’d sit there and think about how much sweeter breakfast would be if she were sitting across the table from me, ranting and raving about things she heard on the news channel that morning before I even had the thought of waking up. Mindy had always been on it. How was I supposed to live without her constantly guiding me in the right direction?
It wasn’t until she had been gone for quite some time that I faced my demons and realized that there was no way my Mindy was coming back. And that holding onto things, keeping them precisely as they were, wasn’t healthy. A thin layer of dust was holding onto everything in her bedroom, as it had been left untouched for the good year that she no longer inhabited the room.
I took that old Swiffer that she used to use for everything in God’s creation and started dusting the room in entirety, being careful not to mess up her salt and pepper shaker collection or the multiple ceramic cats she had sitting around to keep her company. I ransacked her desk, making sure to move and then replace all the short stories and poems she had written right where they belonged. I moved onto the drawers, pulling each one out carefully. They all sat open as I stared in shock and amazement.
There were dozens and dozens of tapes inside each of the drawers, each labeled with a corresponding number in an order that was easy to pick up on. Mindy had a tape recorder, but all these tapes? When did she find the time? Had she unknowingly recorded herself in her later years, reading poems to herself for sake of holding onto the memories of the wonderful pieces and excerpts she wrote? But I had never heard her in this lonely room.
She had to have found the perfect time and just sat for hours, conducting the great things I may find on these tapes. I pulled out the tape recorder in the left top drawer, exactly where I knew she always kept one of her most prized possessions. And I clicked on the first tape, labeled “1.”
“I’ve never done this before,” Mindy’s never-before-heard tape-recorded voice came through the player and straight into my ears like a humming melody from Heaven itself.
“I guess that’s a silly thing to say seeing as I’ve been writing my entire life, but nobody ever asked me to read any of my work aloud, and I certainly haven’t. Maybe it’s the way I think I sound on tape.” She laughed at herself as if she had committed some crime. She was embarrassed and awkward, withheld, but gorgeous nonetheless. I could picture her lovely face as she spoke, probably blushing.
“My doctor told me that I should start writing things down as to not forget, now that I have the official diagnosis. I don’t know how long I’m going to have anymore, because they say it just gets worse from here. The same thing took my father. The Alzheimer’s, the living Hell itself. But I’m trying to make the best of my life as I see fit, with the time I have left… anyway, I guess this is a better way to keep notes about my life. Things I can remember later if I come across these tapes in my favorite dresser and ask, What ever could this be? Because by then, I may have forgotten. And it could only be weeks later. They say this is what the disease does, and I’m scared, but I’m not too scared. I was made to brave anything. More until next time… I better be going to get started on supper. Today was particularly normal with no setbacks, so that’s always good news, right?”
My fingers trembled as I sorted through the drawers and found the “2” tape. I guess it was silly because she was gone now, but a part of me felt guilty listening to her inner thoughts. I wondered if she had ever replayed any of these or if they just sat in the desk, taking up space. Waiting on someone like me to find them.
“Trying this thing again, a week later this time,” Mindy’s chuckling voice starts out already, and then a dramatic pause as if she’s gathering her thoughts. “Today isn’t as well. The phone rang and I ran from the kitchen to chase it. I forgot about my eggs, slowly burning in the pan, until I heard the smoke alarm go off and wondered what had set it to do so. Ran into the kitchen after a slight panic and remembered that I was working on eggs. I was glad that Bruce wasn’t home at the time because he would have thought I was losing my mind, and the last thing I need is to feel any more vulnerable as I do.”
She sighed and took another deep breath before starting again. “Just the fact that the Alzheimer’s is taking its toll is enough to really have me down in the dumps. I thought I wouldn’t be like every other typical case but each day it’s getting more arduous to remember. My doctor says to keep taping myself so I can remember things. I guess I’ll have at it.”
As if on command, I was already searching the drawers for “3.” As soon as I found it, I clicked it into the tape player like some obsessed madman. Her voice started up immediately again, more tired this time as well. “Eventually, I’m going to have to come to terms with things…” Mindy drifted off as if something heinous had been bothering her. “Bruce has been coming home later and later from his errands on the farm. Nervous, bedraggled, and messy to say the least. Hair in some disheveled way that I never saw before, sometimes greasy smears on his shirt that he tries to hide the moment I come into the room by flipping his shirt up over his head and telling me that it was another rough day to change the subject. On more than one occasion I’ve relished the thought of following him to see where he goes during the day, but the truth of the matter is that I can’t even find my way about anymore. The doctor comes on house calls since neither Bruce and I drive anymore and he tells me that things are progressing but that he’s proud of the small improvements I have made. I think he’s just trying to get my hopes up. There don’t seem to be improvements. And if I followed Bruce, I’m worried I would either get caught or never find my way home, and he would find me down the road. In a last minute effort I’d have to tell him I was taking a walk and got lost and he would look at me with that pitiful look he always gives me and say, ‘Honey, you need to stay home. Your condition is worsening’ and I’m trying so hard to keep a straight, hardened face and tell him that everything is going just fine. Maybe even improving, even. But he knows better. Everybody knows pretty soon I’ll just be a shell, no memories in mind. Lost everything.”
I popped in tape “4.”
“My memory has been on-spot for the past week and so I decided that today was the day. The doctor wasn’t set to come by and Bruce commented on the fact that it was bound to be a long day, so I knew I was going to make my move. For drastic measures, I brought small, orange bands to tie around trees so I could find my way back if anything happened and I was left in the middle of the woods on the way to the fields. I wrote myself a note in black marker on my hand that read, ‘Follow the orange bands back home.’ And then I waited an hour for Bruce to get to where he needed to go for the day, and I went on my adventure out to the fields past the woods where he would be working if that’s where he was really going to be.”
Her breath was suddenly lost, as if she had been kicked, and she became distraught in her shaky language. I tried my best to make out the rest of the tape.
“I walked for an hour, at least, and eventually found my way there, orange bands guiding the way back home. I saw Bruce, but he wasn’t in the fields. He was on the woods surrounding the other side of the fields and I crouched down and tried to make out what his shape was doing. That’s when I saw it – he had our shovel in his hands, and there was a decomposing body on the ground. Even from afar, I could make out that the bones were showing a bit and the mouth was opened, as if they had been screaming. Bruce kept digging and digging and I watched for what seemed like forever. And then he just kind of…threw the body inside the hole. I decided it wouldn’t take long for him to cover the body back up and so I turned around and started on my way home. It took me longer this time as I had to search for all the orange bands, but my mind was focused and I made it. He came home two hours later, covered in dirt, saying he was ready for bed. Oh, Bruce… what have you done?” The tape clicked ‘finished.’
My hands trembled as I started tape “5”, something telling me that Mindy must have been reading some elaborate story on these tapes. She must have taken up her sci-fi, horror-style writing and used this as her way of dealing with the Alzheimer’s. Yeah, that must have been it! There’s no way any of this could be real. Her voice started out even more shaky than the last, almost indecipherable this time in comparison.
“Today I followed the orange bands back to the fields and found my worst nightmare.” She paused for a long time, sobbing in-between breaths. I knew that cry better than anything; she was really, truly distraught and this whole thing must not have been feigned. “Bruce had a real, live human tied to a tree in the forest and he was hitting him relentlessly with a shovel. I recognized the man as the owner of the local gas station, older and weak with brittle bones already. Bruce kept hitting him with this wicked smile on his face and as the man screamed out his final, ‘Why?!’ my sweet, loving husband replied, ‘Because I can get away with it. Nobody will ever come looking for you.’ His final scream of pain let loose and then he was gone – that fast. I quickened my pace and hurried home, hoping Bruce hadn’t seen me. I thought about tearing the orange bands from the trees and never returning to that horrible scene but I knew the next day I’d be right back there again, tempted by some pull to come watch him do it all over again.”
Tape “6.” “I’ve thought about saying something to the doctor. It’s something in the way Bruce looks at me… the love isn’t there anymore. We go to bed and he doesn’t say a word. He just turns over, flicks off the light, and goes to sleep. I make breakfast in the morning but he’s gone and I know what he’s doing. I’m worried about my safety…I’m worried about the people in the town.”
Tape “7.” “If anything happens to me, I’m sorry to say it probably wasn’t the Alzheimer’s.”
That evening, shaking, I took a shovel in my hands and I ventured into the woods behind the cottage. The orange bands were tied to almost every large tree. My heart skipped a beat when I saw them. Why hadn’t I noticed those before?
I trekked further and further, deeper and deeper into the woods as I followed the orange bands, now faded with time from when Mindy must have taken careful preparation and wrapped them so neatly around the trees. The last reminder of Mindy, the final gift she had left in her departure from this earth. As I came to the fields, I scanned my eyes looking for the freshest mound of dirt.
Something within me hoped that I would never find it, that this was some practical joke, that I’d never find anything and she would have created her most elaborate story yet. Even from beyond. But there, staring back at me in horror, was a relatively fresh dirt mound, different from the rest of the soil in the area.
I dug and dug for what felt like hours with my feeble arms and then I collapsed in horror at what I found, buried deep within the soil. Mindy’s face stared back at me with an expression of terror and fear, something she must have worn on her face for a very long time. Suddenly, the world turned black around me as I remembered answering the phone on certain occasions, not to hear the delicate tones of loved ones saying, “We’re sorry for your loss” but instead, “Have you heard any new leads?”
I called the doctor, who came out that afternoon at the thought of a mental breakdown, accompanied by police from what I had told him over the phone. They sat me in the back of the police car and asked me questions, like, “Do you know who you are?” and, “Do you know what you’ve done?”
I’m Bruce J. Woods, but I may not remember this tomorrow. I don’t know where they’re going to take me or what they’re going to do with me, but for now, my memory has returned and I nod my head at their questions and realize what I’ve done. I killed Mindy. But tomorrow the Alzheimer’s may get the best of me, too, and I may forget.