Saturday 28 April 2018

To Hold a Hand

by James Bates 

spring water

Short Bio: 
I am retired after many years teaching and doing course design for an electronics control company. I have been writing for a number of years: haiku, poetry, short and long fiction. My stories can be found posted on my website:

"See you later," I waved, "Hope it all goes well."
            My brother waved back and made his way to where the eye technician was waiting. His look belied his true feelings. I knew how nervous he was. His eyes were pretty bad, scarred years ago from a rare form of glaucoma. There'd be a lot of tests over the next two hours and the end result was be this: Would he be able to continue to drive or not?
            A moment later he was taken into the inner catacombs of the eye care clinic. Now it was just Beth and I.
            "Where's Tim?" she asked, less than a minute after he'd left us, "Where'd Tim go?"
            I tried to reassure her, "It's all right, Beth. He just went for his eye exam. Remember, we talked about this. He'll be in there for an hour or so."
            "Oh. Okay."
            Shit. I shouldn't have said, "Remember." I felt like an idiot. Beth is in her seventh year of dealing with Alzheimer's. She's still able to live at home, and Tim does an admirable job of caring for her, but've got to stay on your toes.
            I'd brought the two of them here last year for the same tests and the entire time Tim was away from us Beth asked every five minutes, "Where's Tim? Where's Tim? Where's Tim?" She had been pretty agitated. I'd reassured her each and every time by saying, "He's just getting some tests done. He'll be back soon." But, that's how it is with memory loss; you forget.
            I was ready for the same scenario this year. After Tim left us, I made sure Beth was settled and at ease. "Do you want something to drink? Some water? Tea?" A blank look and then a shake of the head. No. "Are you comfortable? Not too warm or too cold?" A blank look, then a nod of the head. Yes. "You're okay then? A another nod. Yes.
            Okay, good.
            Beth was wearing all black today: black slacks and a black turtle neck. Our Minnesota winter was winding down, but it was still cold out, so she had on her black winter coat and black boots. Black is, was, and probably always will be, her favorite color. Today it set off her short cropped, white hair which framed her angular face. Around her neck she wore a heart shaped, polished piece of obsidian on a black cord; a gift years ago to her from my brother, worn today to, as Tim told me earlier, "To make her look pretty."
            I opened my magazine, a publication put out by the Minnesota Department of Natural Recourses. The lead article was about an artist who did plein air painting of northern Minnesota scenes, specifically of the land around the boundary waters and lake superior. They were well done, in my estimation, and I had brought the magazine along to show Beth. At one time she was well-known regionally for her elegantly exact paintings of flowers: peonies, lilies, hepatica and many other types of native plants. She called her work "photorealism" and it was not only beautiful but highly sought after. Over the course of her life she'd won many awards, and her work is still featured in galleries in the upper Midwest. She hadn't painted in over ten years, though, not since the onset of her disease.
            "Beth," I said to get her attention. She turned a sleepy eye to me and I pointed to a scene of waves crashing against a rocky shoreline near the Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior, "What do you think about this painting? Do you like it?"
            She looked at the colorful watercolor: the myriad shades of blue, azure, cyan and teal for sky and water, the tones of brown,russet, amber and chestnut for the trees, the feldspar and olivine minerals of the igneous rocks, and the soft vanilla white of a nearby birch clump dotted with shades of summer green for its leaves. I gave her time, wondering what her reaction would be. In years past, she would have had an opinion, lots of them. In fact, she used to write art reviews and commentary for a local newspaper. But that was a long time ago. Today, she pondered the painting for maybe a minute before looking at me, shrugging her shoulders and silently shaking head to the negative, indicating, I guess, she had no thoughts on the subject.
            "Do you remember that you used to paint? I asked, not wanting to let go of the moment, "Both you and Tim did."
            She gave me a long look. Would she remember? She had produced nearly seven-hundred and fifty paintings over her lifetime. More than enough, to my way of thinking, to remember some of them, or least one or two, possibly her particular favorites. But, no, another shake of her head to the negative.
            "I don't remember," she said, and sat back. Then she closed her eyes as if exhausted by the effort.
            "That's too bad," I said sympathetically. I thought for a moment, not wanting to give up on helping her to retrieve a portion of her memory, tiny and fleeting though it may have been. I leaned over and said, "They were really good." I'm not sure if she heard me. Probably not. I watched her eyes darting under her eyelids, moving rapidly, engaged in a world all of her own design, her own creation. Entranced, I watched and wondered, "What could she be seeing? What was she envisioning?" After a minute, though, her eye movement slowed, and her eyelids went still. Soon her breathed deepened as she dozed off.
            I spent the first hour reading, checking my phone and making sure Beth was doing all right. She was. She dozed a bit and was awake a lot. I was happy that she was comfortable and not agitated like last year. Once when I asked how she was doing she said, "I'm fine. I like watching the people."
            I didn't blame her. This was a big outing for her. Usually she and my brother stayed home and spent the day together, their only break being an occasional walk in their quiet, tree lined neighborhood. Outings like the one we were on were becoming fewer and farther between, what with his failing eyesight and her increasing memory loss. It occurred to me that getting out like this was good for her. She hadn't asked where Tim was except for that one time when he'd first left.
            Into the second hour, I was reading and, to be honest, kind of dozing off a little myself, when I felt a stir to my right. It was Beth. She was awake. I glanced at her and smiled and she smiled back. I went back to reading. Suddenly, softly, I felt her move again and in a moment her hand slipped over the arms of each of our chairs and into mine. Her left hand into my right hand. It was cool to the touch. She gently interwove her fingers into mine and with her right hand, leaned over and covered them both. Then she patted them. She and my brother had been together for over forty-one years and in all that time, I doubt she and I had ever even touched, and certainly never held hands. Even to shake, "Hello," in a way of a greeting. We were not what you'd call a physically demonstrative family.
            I was shocked, yet, at the same time, curiously touched by her action. What would cause her to do something like that? I turned to her and smiled, "Are you doing okay?"
            She smiled back. "Yes. Yes, I am." She was silent for a moment and then added, "Thank you for being here with me."
            Well, I never...What do you say to something like that? Well, obviously, "You're welcome," which is what I said. I paused a beat and then added, "I'm glad to be with you." She didn't say anything in return, she simply smiled back at me. We were both quiet. Then I had a thought. I went ahead and seized the moment and asked her something I'd been wondering about for the last few years, "Beth, I have a question for you. Do you know who I am?"
            She gave me a long look, still holding my hand and said, "Nooo. No, I don't. I'm sorry, but I don't remember."
            "Do you know who Tim is?"
            "Oh, yes," she smiled happily and perked right up, "I know Tim."
            "Well, I'm Tim's brother," I told her, "I'm Jeremy." She stared at me. Another blank look. I added, "Like Dennis. You know. You're bother."
            "Never mind," I decided not to push it and make her uncomfortable about not being able to remember who her brother was. I shifted gears and asked, "So you're doing okay, Beth? Should we just sit here?"
            So we sat together. I went back to my magazine and read. I held it in my left hand. Beth continued to hold my right hand while she watched people come and go from the waiting room. We were quiet with each other, but comfortable being together. It was a good feeling.
            Fifteen minutes later when Tim came back and saw us he smiled, "I guess you guys are doing pretty good. He pointed to our hands, still interlocked, "Beth likes to do that sometimes. It gives her a sense of security. I'm glad you were there for her."
            He sat down on the other side of Beth and she immediately released my hand and took a hold of his. By then both her hands were nice and warm. Tim and I talked for a while about how his appointment went before we all got our coats on and left. We went out to lunch, and then I dropped them off at their home. "See you next week," I waved good-bye. I liked to visit with Tim and Beth on a weekly basis. It was good to stay in touch. Then I drove the half hour drive west to my home in Long Lake.
            I don't know if I'll ever forget that morning with Beth and being with her in the waiting room; being there when she needed someone to give her comfort and a sense of security; being there to help fill in for my brother; being there as a friend. I'll tell you one thing, though: I was glad to do it, glad I was there.
            Oh, Tim passed all of his tests. He can still drive, but with restrictions, and has to go back  next year to be tested again. I guess, now, it's a yearly thing for him. He wants to know if I can drive him and Beth. I told him I'd be happy to. 

About the auhtor 

I am retired after many years teaching and doing course design for an electronics control company. I have been writing for a number of years: haiku, poetry, short and long fiction. My stories can be found posted on my website:



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