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The Echo MAG
The nurses no longer look surprised when you say you are here to see your father. They know you now. You are the one who comes every day, despite the futility. They smile and tell you where he is.
“He’s doing better today,” they say gently, in that motherly way they have around you. You nod, smile slightly, but wonder what difference this makes when he will never be well.
You find him in the dining room, by the bird cage. His eyes, once so alive, stare blankly at the birds. He has a wary look on his face as if he is sure the feathered creatures are someone he once knew but can’t remember if they are his friends.
There is so little he remembers now. You weave your way through others so much older than him; he looks up when you approach but says nothing. He does not recognize you. Where is the man of your childhood, the huge man with bear hugs and a booming laugh? He is lost somewhere in the shell of this shrunken man whose thick hair is now gray and whose frail body needs help to walk.
You lay your hand on his shoulder and he pats it, a comforting pat. Even though he does not know you, he seems to realize how much it hurts for you to see him like this. You help him up and back to his room. The silence follows. He does not speak much anymore and there is little for you to say.
He sits calmly as you comb his tangled hair, so abundant even at his age. He is almost 68, and you think about telling him this, but decide against it. He will not understand, will not remember. It is strange to have him sit so still. Usually he bounces around in the chair, making brushing his hair an ordeal. You wish now that he was like that, if only so you knew he was still alive somewhere inside. You read to him but he is not listening. His eyes are fastened on a sunbeam escaping around the edge of the curtain. You recall your own inattention when you were young, his firm voice and stern gray eyes always brought you guiltily back to the moment.
You remember the twinkle in his eye as he read you your favorite story, letting you point out the pictures and ask questions. He does not remember and now you read to him.
There are no questions. He is lost in a world of dreams; you cannot wake him. You close the book and he notices you again. He touches your knee. You fake a smile. Does he know how much you want to cry at the sight of this poor man, once so close and now so very far away?
He does not remember he was once a man with a vibrant personality. He has withered under the strain of forgetfulness. You squeeze his shoulder good-bye. He smiles vaguely.
The next day he is in his room. You watch him as he stands by the window, looking out at the grassy yard. He notices you and he is full of excitement. You remember yourself so much like this, coming and laying your treasures out to him so he may examine every acorn cap and shiny rock.
“There was an echo here earlier.”
His voice surprises you; it has been so long since he has spoken. The thrill at such a childish and simple thing has made his voice strong again. You close your eyes and for a moment you can picture him as he was when you were young. The squeak of his cane on the tile floor brings you back from your reverie. He is pacing up and down, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, breathing heavily as his eyes spark with enthusiasm. He gives a cry suddenly and then waits expectantly. It does not come back.
His brow furrows and he does it again, lower and softer. He leans hard on his cane, straining to hear. The life goes out of him as he realizes his echo is gone. You lead him to a chair; he shakes his head in disappointment.
“It was right here,” he mutters softly. You touch his shoulder, your eyes filling with tears. Does he remember you are right here, desperately trying to bring him back?
But he does not remember. You wonder when the day comes when he will leave completely, will he recognize you enough to say good-bye? Will he recall what it was like before memory faded? And when it is over, will you be the only echo of him left?
Perhaps he will have a split second at the end where he is your father again.
Where he remembers …
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