Age: 13, Grade: 8
School Name: Middle School 255 Salk School Of Science, New York, NY
Educators: Ling Teo, Jake Wizner
Category: Short Story
Where could that thing be? I search for the call button that I always misplace. Fumbling, I find it twisted around my neck. I hit the button. I have to pee. I want to go by myself, but I can’t. A nurse with a bright smile rushes into my room and I am relieved to see that it is Kathy, whom I recognize. My favorite. Kathy is loyal, just like my daughter. It was so hard for me to leave her. Why did I leave her again? I grasp for any memory of why, but I don’t remember. It must have been important, otherwise, I would never have left my daughter to come to this nursing home. I remember the day the doctor diagnosed me with Alzheimer’s. His ivory coat had rustled as he flipped through my files. I can only remember the insignificant details. Never anything important. I tell Kathy that I have to pee. She reaches to take my arm. My old, wrinkled, saggy, meatless arm. She helps me up while my ancient bones creak and pop as they grind against each other. I balance against Kathy to sit down in my rusty wheelchair. It’s too dangerous for me to walk anymore, even with help. When I could walk, I loved to wander down the halls. It made me feel free, even if I didn’t know where I was going. My nurse wheels me to the bathroom and helps me remove my pants. I sit on the toilet seat, cheeks flushing with embarrassment. I’ve done this hundreds of times. The helplessness and uneasiness never go away. I feel worthless, like a forgotten ragdoll. I hate it. I need her help to wipe and lift me back into my wheelchair. Then I ask her if I have eaten yet. I don’t remember anymore.
Kathy and I flip through a photo album. I savor each page, drinking it in. She asks me if I remember this photo of Simba when he was a puppy. Of course, I do. This photo was taken at our country house, his golden fur and single floppy ear glistening in the sunlight. She asks if I remember another photo. A photo of five snowmen. It takes a minute, but I remember. They were built when Julianna, Evie, and I were bored. We convinced our parents to help us build the snowmen and wrap them all in scarves and mittens. Kathy writes something down as I smile fondly to myself, recalling Evie and Julianna. I don’t remember the color of their hair. I just remember the sound of our laughter, tangled together in the air. As Kathy flips to a new page, I stop. I don’t remember. A photo of a blonde and a brunette. The brown-haired girl is me, but I don’t know who the blond is. I rack my memory, searching for a fairy outfit, rose pink with gossamer wings sticking out of the back. I look to the canary yellow walls, hunting for answers. I am reaching for a memory that is just out of my grip. I curse my old memory, wishing I was younger. I slide the photo out of its sleeve and hold it. I run my fingers over her face searching for big blue eyes and monkey ears. My nurse asks me if I remember. I don’t. I flip the photo over. Two names are on the back in delicate writing. Mia Gallo and May Shott. October 31st, 2009.
May. Suddenly I am 80 years younger. Memories of May come flooding back. Jumping on a trampoline, swimming as mermaids, secrets whispered at night, a secret hideout shared, long car rides, hours of ballet, big goofy smiles. I feel the tears dripping down my wrinkled face as she comes back to me; my May. I remember growing up together, bus rides to school, glances passed, people watched, warm hugs, and laughter. Oh, how she made me laugh. I remember graduating and holding her hand as we pose for another picture wearing ridiculous outfits. I remember texts, letters, emails, and phone calls. Texts, letters, emails, and phone calls that stopped coming. That I stopped sending. My nurse asks me if I am okay, but I ignore her, focused on one thing. I frantically whip through the photo book, searching for her face. I pass one, sitting on hay bales. Another, wearing big wigs and white flowy dresses. A third of us sitting in a big red velvet chair reading a book with Julianna. More and more photos show her face but they are not enough. Each photo has a number written on the back. 212-308-6101. I want more. I want her. With my brown hair now grey and my memory abandoning me, I know I need to speak to her, to remember her, before it’s too late. I tell my nurse that I need to call the number. So we do. My eyes eagerly wait as the blank white phone dials the numbers, the beeping resounding through my head. 212-308-6101. A child picks up. I ask her if this is the Shott residence. I ask for a May Shott. The child giggles and tells me that her grandmother isn’t here right now. My heart plummets. I ask her if she can bring me to her mother or father. I hear shuffling and then a woman’s voice comes on to the phone. I ask her if she knows a May Shott. She says she does. My heart soars with hope as I ask the lady if I can speak to May. The woman asks if this is a joke in a voice devoid of all warmth. She says that her mother died two years ago. With a click, she hangs up.
My heart shatters, each piece screaming out for May. I put down the phone. I tell my nurse to leave. I stare ahead of me. The blue of May’s princess dress and the pink of my fairy dress fade to grey. Tears burst from my eyes like a flood let loose. The sobs yank out of my body, each one tearing through my aged bones as I hiccup and snot flows out of my nose, running down the corners of my mouth. My eyelashes become heavy with salty tears and the front of my blouse is soon soaked through. My grief from May rains down around me. I cry for the lost time. I cry for May. But most of all, I cry for the two little girls, smiling at the camera and holding hands, not knowing what’s to come. I shut the photo album and stare out the window with the photo clutched in my gnarled hand. I am tired of remembering. I try to forget.
I wake up again, sleep continuing to taunt me. I am always tired. A nurse is sitting at the edge of my bed. Her name is Kathy. I don’t know her. I guess she’s new. I feel as if I’ve seen her before. She must have one of those faces. She reaches to help me out of my bed, and I creak and pop just like I do every morning. I ease into my wheelchair. I let my heart catch up with my body, its beats slow and sluggish. Kathy feeds me my pills along with the tasteless toast and scrambled eggs, that are cut up into small pieces. Kathy asks me a question. It takes me a second to register it, and then I answer. Slowly I pick each word out of my weary mind. “No, I do not know a May Shott.” For some reason, I am drowned with grief. I don’t know why. I don’t remember.