With my head still hazy and full of tiredness I opened my eyes to the bright sunlight through the crack in the curtains; the curtains that seem strange and different although I couldn’t put my finger on why.
After all they were curtains, how often do people change curtains? As I began to focus my blurry eyes, things started to clear. I stared at the crack letting all the warmth and brightness of a new day in. “What time did I go to sleep?” I muttered. I never woke this late. My routine always had me up before dawn; after all, the crops aren’t going to harvest themselves.
As I gazed through my morning eyes, I wondered what sort of day it would be, would the cattle behave themselves? Would the machinery keep going? Then, something took my focus; so much that I bolted upright in my bed, bringing on a wave of dizziness. This wasn’t my bedroom. Panic-stricken, I searched the room for anything familiar... nothing. “Where am I?”
I managed between short breaths. I had always suffered from a little asthma when I was younger, but nothing to the point that it concerned me enough to see the doctor. The wall that displayed the picture of my 2-year-old daughter, it was bare aside from a drab white paint.
In fact, all the walls were bare. All the pictures I had collected over the years were gone. Even the colour was not what I had painted. My wife and I had picked the deep maroon a few years ago, just after we married and bought the house.
“Annabelle!” I croaked. My wife had passed away a year after our daughter was born, due to a lung condition and I kept a picture of her on the bedside table along with our wedding rings. It helped me get some closure as well as giving me a way of remembering her each morning.
The old, rustic pine table which we had varnished a deep mahogany was gone and in its place, was what looked like a stainless steel table with what I can only describe as a beige, vinyl, wipe down surface. On top, was no framed picture or the small piece of velvet I kept our rings on, just a half drank glass of water and a small pill dispenser. “What’s happening? Where is Annabelle, and our rings, and whose pills are these?” I didn’t take medication aside from the odd painkiller for the occasional headache after a long day.
I shifted in the bed, unnerved by the missing treasure, which caused the linen sheet to slide, revealing a watch on the edge of the table, which until then had been obscured. It was my watch! Something I recognised.
As I reached out for the watch, I noticed the sheets on the bed; before I had been too shocked by the missing family pictures and treasures that I had ignored it completely, but they were sheets I didn’t recognise. I didn’t own any sheets like these; pure white, with matching pillow cases. I never slept with just a sheet, Annabelle was slightly anaemic and we always had to have a duvet, no matter what the temperature was and I guess it was something that just stuck with me after she died.
I ripped the sheets off of me, like they were some kind of toxic waste crippling me and turned myself to put my feet on the floor, which wasn’t the soft cream carpet that I expected but a cold, off white, non-slip surface, like something you would see in a gym’s locker room.
Not that I went to the gym all that often, it was just what the image reminded me of. I scuffed my foot just under the bed in search of my slippers, which again wasn’t my nice, hand carved wooden bed with double mattress, but a steel framed, lifeless piece of mass produced garbage.
Of course, though, I realised very quickly that my slippers weren’t there, why would they be? Nothing else was there. With a long sigh and my panicked mood now changing to pure frustration I stood and reached for the watch, which read that the time was 10:40 AM.
“I really have slept in” I mumbled, a little off put by my tardiness, “I’m never going to get all the jobs done today no- “, the reality hit home just as I was finishing the thought, I was in a strange and unfamiliar place, with none of the comforts of home, I wasn’t just going to be able to step out the door onto the farm and get on with work.
I puffed my cheeks, and glanced at the watch again. “Son of a,” I snorted.
I was in pyjamas; I never wore pyjamas, I always got too hot and ended up stripping them off so I never saw the point. Exhaustively I dropped my arms in defeat, letting the watch slide onto one finger and hang limp.
In the corner of the room, by the window was a small chair that I hadn’t noticed earlier. Another sigh let itself out as I shuffled my way over to it. “There must be some reason I’m here and obviously not at home,” I surmised, reaching the somewhat uncomfortable looking steel chair.
As I lumped down a thought popped in to my head which began to grow. This is a hospital, it must be. It’s the only explanation. I hurriedly scanned the room for anything that may confirm my suspicion and sure enough at the foot of the bed, hanging on the railing was a patient chart which I could just about make out my name on. But why am I in a hospital?
I wondered, desperately trying to recall an event that may explain my situation. Maybe I hit my head while I was working on the tractor yesterday. Yes, that had to be it. I must have hit my head and John (my one and only employee) had brought me here.
A moment of calm started to wash over me until my thoughts turned back to home, then dread flooded my system; Where’s Madeline? I thought, mouthing it to myself a few times over. Surely John would have taken her to his house to look after, after dropping me off here, she is only 2 after all and we both didn’t trust babysitters. Yeah, that must be what he did, took her back to his, but why didn’t he leave a note?
I jumped from the chair and rummaged around near the table; moving all the objects, as well as the pillow and bed sheet. I even looked under the bed but there was no note. “Damn it, John!” I cursed. “I have to make sure she’s okay.”
Just as I was about to pull the door handle, there was a knock, which made me jump and recoil. As I was stepping back, the door swung open and a middle-aged man stepped in with a pure white lab coat on and a stethoscope around his neck. The rage and panic that had built from not knowing where Madeline was, had completely been consumed with fear. Get a hold of yourself man, it’s just the doctor, you feel fine. Just tell him you need to make sure your daughter is okay and he’ll let you go or at least use the phone to call John.
Just as the doctor was about to approach he furrowed his brow and looked back towards the entrance. He leaned back just far enough to poke his head out into the corridor and held one hand up to his mouth shielding what he was about to say, although I pretty much heard everything anyway.
“If you don’t mind just waiting a couple of minutes out here while I assess his condition, then I’ll call you in.”
His voice echoed enough that even whispering it was pretty clear. He gave a nod to whoever was in the corridor; I couldn’t tell; they were stood to the side of the door frame. He then turned back to me, the cheerful smile had returned to his face.
“Hello Richard,” he said with a loud and omnipresent voice, “how are you feeling today?” He paused, waiting for a response, seemingly unaware of the panic and confusion on my face.
“I’m fine doctor,” I began, struggling to sound somewhat coherent in my desperation. “I need to get home, I don’t know where my daughter is, and I need to check to see if she’s okay... please could you let me use a phone or clear me so I can leave?” I was about to continue when he interrupted.
“Richard, I need you to calm down and take a seat”, I hadn’t even realised that I had stood and was impatiently pacing back and forth.
“How can I calm down? Didn’t you hear what I said?” My voice had begun to rise into more of a panicked frustration. “I need to check on my daughter.”
“Mr. Blake,” he said in a slightly more forceful manner. He was using my surname, I guessed in a way to sound more official and authoritarian. “Please take and seat and we can talk about what’s going on.”
I ignored his suggestion to seat and I was still pacing around in front of him, my eyes focused on his, trying to get some read on him. I tried to steel myself and sound a little more forceful; “Look, doctor, I know I must have been in some sort of accident to end up here, and I know you are just doing your job, but I feel fine, I just need to get home.”
The doctor, which, by then I had glanced at his name tag which read ‘Dr. T. Hampton’ was now beginning to look a little more concerned; the big smile he had donned was gone and replaced with furrowed brows and one corner of his mouth was pinched.
He let out a small sigh and looked back towards the door, “You better come in now Mrs. Guest,” he was ushering with a hand motion as he spoke. A few seconds later a young woman rounded the corner and stood in the doorway.
The woman lingered in the doorway; from what I could tell she must have been in her early thirties and was dressed well, probably one of those fancy doctors that wear normal clothes I thought as I glanced her over, although she had a somewhat familiar face, that I just couldn’t place, but in my confusion and other mix of emotions I wrote it off as just one of those things. She had a look of worry and confusion on her face and her skin seemed to be washed of colour, like she had seen a ghost. Eventually after a few lip biting moments, she stepped in and stood just to the side of the doctor a couple of steps back at which point Dr. Hampton turned back to me.
“Now Mr. Blake, there are a couple of important questions I need to ask you and you need to answer me truthfully.” Again, he paused, gauging my response.
“Fine,” I said impatiently “anything to get me out of here quicker.”
“Okay then great”, he glanced at the woman standing behind him who now had one hand to her mouth. “How old are you, Mr. Blake and how old is your daughter?” A light smile was back on his face as he waited.
The question hit me as strange, surely, he was the doctor, he should know all this information, was he testing me to make sure I didn’t have a concussion? I mulled the question over in my head, probably longer than I should have because by the time I came to answer; his smile was retreating, being slowly replaced with the concern of earlier.
“What sort of question is that? You are the doctor, you must have all that information, and I don’t understand why you’re asking. Is it to check if I have a concussion? Because I’m pretty sure I don’t,” at this point I was beyond frustrated, all I wanted to do was for these people to leave so I could leave.
Dr. Hampton lowered his gaze and sighed again, “Mr. Blake, please humour me and answer my questions” he said.
The woman still stood silently, looking worried, her hand still covering her mouth. “Fine” I grunted. “I’m 34 years old, I am a farm owner and I live alone with my 2-year-old daughter Madeline.”
At this the woman behind the doctor, who had been silent up until now, let out a small gasp, muffled by her hand, then her eyes began to well. I looked at her in confusion and sympathy for some reason. “Who is this woman?” I asked with more fire than I had intended, gazing anxiously at her stricken expression.
Her face immediately turned to shock and a tear ran down her pale cheek. “I’m sorry doctor,” she managed between sobs, “I can’t do this.”
With that she turned and ran for the door, turning the corner so I could no longer see her. Her reaction was oddly not strange to me, instead it lay heavy on my chest, but who was she anyway? Why do I feel so conflicted now?
Dr. Hampton returned his gaze from the door to me, his face was stern and he spoke in a harsh, almost angry tone, “Mr. Blake, let me make this clear; you are not 34 and your daughter is not a 2-year-old.”
Anger and confusion washed over me. What, does he think I’m stupid or something? This has to be some kind of test, right? He continued, pulling me out of my thoughts, “You have been with us for a few months now, you are a 65-year-old retired farmer and your daughter is 33...” His face remained stern, examining me all over.
That isn’t possible, I thought, and apparently, I had also whispered aloud because Dr. Hampton responded, “It is possible, please take a seat and I will explain everything to you”
I felt defeated at that point, all the energy that I had built up had vanished and all that was left was exhaustion. I slumped back into the chair that I had refused during the confrontation.
“I don’t understand,” I said softly, “I remember being on the farm yesterday and... and who was that woman?” up until this point I had regarded her presence just as backup for Dr. Hampton.
“That ‘woman,’” Dr. Hampton replied, emphasising the word ‘woman’ “is your daughter... She had come to see you to see how you were getting along... You see the reason you have been with us for a few months now is not because you had any accident, but because you are suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s and you now need special care.”
The words hit me like a heavyweight boxer going for the knockout blow. How can this be? It can’t be true, it just can’t. Thoughts and mixed feeling were rushing through my head faster than I could understand them. I put my head into my hand to try and focus myself somewhat.
“That’s not possible,” I managed finally, not even looking up to the doctor who had moved close enough to rest a hand on my shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly, “I know this is hard to take but you are just having a bad day, where you are relapsing to a prominent time in your life, and your brain is telling you that you are living in that time.”
His words came to me in a muffled, distant tone; I was drifting and didn’t know where, I was no longer in the room, but in my own head, filled with revelations and questions.
I shifted so I was facing the window and to release myself from the doctor’s hand; the sun was out and it was looking like a beautiful day. The gardens outside were well landscaped with flower beds beginning to show their colour. A gentle breeze whipped through the trees bordering the lawn, blowing what looked like a small paper bag out of the grassy gardens and onto a paved parking area.
It nestled on a piece of concrete beside a red car. I watched it as it became motionless and through the corner of my eye a figure came into view; it was the woman, the one who had been in the room... my daughter. She was hurriedly walking towards the car, her face wet with tears. She stopped and fumbled in her purse revealing a set of keys. With a flash of the car's lights, she opened the door and climbed in behind the wheel. She sat there motionless for a few moments, staring into what I could only imagine was the entranceway, until she bowed her head into her cupped hands.
I couldn’t look anymore, so I unfocused my vision, settling on the glass window itself. It was then that I caught a glimpse of a reflection; it was my own, staring back at me. A stern-faced old man gazed at me in awe. It was me but not me, a much older version of me.
The doctor was telling the truth, I was an old, lonely man sitting in a room, reliving something that happened years ago. I had no memory of the years since, nothing.
I chanced another look at the car in the parking lot but it was gone, replaced with a sad, empty space. Behind where the car had been parked was an ornate sign that I noticed, obscured until now. I stared at it, reading the words over and over in my head; Season Acres Geriatric Centre and Hospice printed in decorative letters stood boldly, taunting my knotted consciousness.
I stared in disbelief for what seemed like an eternity, then, as if turning a tap, a wash of memory flooded into my head, all a jumble but I knew at once it was fragments of the missing years, nothing that I could clearly discern, like flipping through an old photo album, zeroing in on particular events that held significance.
I let go and accepted the truth. Sitting motionless, everything around me was just white noise and allowing a single tear to escape from my welling eyes... “Madeline... Madeline... I’m sorry,” was all I could manage.