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Kevin Hull

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Last Pictures
By Kevin Hull
Wednesday, October 22, 2003



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for Mrs. Rose Landon, whose courage in the face of Alzheimers was an inspiration to behold

written in Atascadero, CA 1997

_____________________________________


Time was the enemy; in the end it took everything from us, and left us afraid and bewildered. Long ago the seers had concluded that creation was only a conditional representation of the divine; being the dissolution and reappearance of the inscrutable mystery of life in cycles of vast time, it produced birth, death, and illusion, in a continuous stream of subsumed Being. In other words, it produced, on a grand scale, nothing REAL. And we, poor humanity, lived in time. Our story concerns one such 'prisoner spirit' who battled cruel time on the outskirts of consciousness as if prematurely consigned to oblivion. Who can say if he won or lost?
At 2 a.m. on a Thursday morning our hero opened the back door of his house and wobbled into the darkness of his yard. He stood there for nearly five minutes, then, turning abruptly, shuffled disconsolately back inside the house, poured himself a bowl of corn flakes, took a spoon from the sink, and sat down, staring vacantly into the flowing grain of the hardwood table. Rising, he dropped the spoon onto the linoleum floor.
"John, is that you?" his wife called. He walked out the front door, to the driveway, got into the car, and sat staring, rigid and confused, into the dashboard. The car alarm sounded as he fumbled with the keys.
"What are you doing?" she asked, nervously.
"I want to see if the car works." He spoke in a monotone, without looking at her.
"But you know it works," she said, "We drive it all the time." She stood in her robe, her arms closed around her against the night chill.
"If you don't come inside I'll have to call somebody," she said sharply, the timbre of her voice revealing the weariness of an old anxiety. He sat in silence for a moment.
"Who would you call?"
She hesitated, and then in a strained, high-pitched voice, said: "I'll . . . I'll call the police."
He looked into the shadows gathered round the porch light and focused on her face with an expression of stark unfamiliarity. His forehead, wrinkled in consternation, shone in the moonlight.
"I wish you would," he said. "Maybe they can tell me who I am."

She held him gently by the shoulders, and encouraged him out of the car. He did not resist. Just before dawn, she lay awake recalling the recent nights of fear and helplessness, the soft distant snoring of her husband punctuating her dark sense of isolation. She had to keep constant vigil, and she was so tired. Her life was an afterthought between waking and dreaming. Biting her lip, she tried not to think. Morning arrived like a scream.

His name was John. He had a fifty year old daughter. But he didn't know this. He hadn't really forgotten. She'd merely walked into a time he no longer inhabited. He saw pictures in his mind, dream-like, and yet unbearably real at the same moment. But there was something missing. He wanted to find it, to keep it safe. This work drove him to further distraction, and made him morose, restless and silent. He spent his time searching through the distant pictures of another life -- abrupt snapshots of emotion he wished either to embrace or hurl into hell.

"When did Frank leave?"
"Do you know who I am? she said, her voice cracking.
"Where's Frank!" he shouted, fearfully, his hands trembling. She put her arms around his shoulders and hugged him tenderly.
"He'll be back soon," she whispered. "Now get some rest, darling." She had never known John's older brother. He had passed on before she and John were married. She had seen pictures.

She told herself she had to do it. But she hated the argument she used both to defend her action and to condemn it. Either way she and John would be utterly alone. The 'Rest Home' was a cheerless place of unfinished ghosts, remnants and ruins of human identities languishing in the labored breathing of fragile moments recklessly spent and largely forgotten. She couldn't bear the place.

"John," she thought sadly, "maybe you're the lucky one . . ." And she put her face in her hands.

But suffering is seldom total. In the beginning John would sit hunched within himself, in his wheelchair, a thousand miles and forty years distant, reliving a facet of his soul which brought joy to his heart. The diamond soul would shift, light skimming the cut surface, and reflect into his consciousness the actual substance, the very breath, touch and fragrance of a scene. For that moment he was no longer a stranger, but a viable entity.
John knew, in these moments, where and who he was. He was swimming in Sandy River or climbing Mt. Rogers with his brother Frank; or playing with his baby daughter . . . or kissing his wife. But gradually these pictures began to move too fast across the lens of his mind; he couldn't retrieve them or keep them in place.
The movement disturbed him most, his life sliding away from him with such elusivenes, with such cruel and diabolical disregard. Eventually the film moved so fast that only an unconscious hope kept him alive; a vague and stubborn hope that he would remember, once again put his life in focus, and find peace. But in time even this feeling became indefinable and unrecognizable, a mute thing whose 'life' had already been betrayed.
He rarely recognized anyone, and often confused the faces before him with faces from the distant past. He had nearly ceased sensing himself altogether. He was, rather, a prisoner spirit, slammed by images precious and hurtful, a source of mysterious light, and a reel of film, unraveling. The projected or the projector? or both? His connection to this movie was becoming more and more tenuous. He, whoever he might be, could not keep the pace. He stared into himself with a blank and desperate concentration.

The prayer itself was pain, possessing nothing of the sweet fervor of a prayer intended to attract Grace or ameliorate the human condition: it was simply the voice of sacrifice and shame. Driven by devotion, it was the only voice left to her: 'please', it said, 'please'. She knew he would not find himself again. He'd gone too far, and now it was best if he kept going. She prayed the journey be finished quickly, mercifully. And she despised herself for this prayer, suspicious of her motives, ashamed of her faithlessness, her fear, and her weakness. And yet she prayed.

John was far away. He was fed baby food in silence, void of curiosity. All his efforts, unseen and unexpected, were focused inward. He'd given up the race; he couldn't keep up, nor force the pictures to stop before the window of his awareness. He tried, beyond knowing, with all that was left of him, and to him, to wring the essential out of his life, to distill the images into a single drop of precious life, a single exquisite jewel of knowing. His thoughts poured out of emptiness in a desperate rush . . . 'This life! . . . How could anything be so close! so distant!'

One night she dreamed John came to her, smiled, touched her shoulder gently, and said: "It's alright, sweetheart." She woke sobbing, yet strangely, inexplicably happy.

John was staring into space, into the open mystery no one else could see, a frail old man bleached by time, diminished and feeble, staring wildly outward-inward. And with his last pictures, these last sure thoughts: "I see it now . . . All of it! . . . It was the love . . . the love."

       Web Site: Nameless Traveler

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Reviewed by Kate Clifford 10/22/2003
Tears! One part hit me the hardest in this write and that was the feeling of betrayal when you pray for death for a loved one. You just don't want them to suffer anymore. My ex's Aunt had Alzheimers. The last time we saw her, we told her all the new news of the family and so forth and on our way out she blushed and said I have something to ask you, Who are you? The hit of that question I will never forget.


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