Archie in the Fifth Dementia
Well, here I am again, not knowing where the hell I am. Everywhere looks the same – every house, every street, every town. Only the past remains my home. Only it has any distinguishing features. This place, these people mean nothing to me. They don't really see me, and I don't see them. Even these people who say they know me – I don't know them. They say they're friends, relatives, colleagues from work. One even says she's my daughter but I don't know her from Adam. I can't remember names and when I can it's like a fruit machine spinning its wheels. Is it Dave, Doris, Dick, Arthur, Edward or Arnold? Eventually the right name comes round, or they blurt out the answer.
'It's Mary, your sister.'
'Now, Mr Smith – what do you want for your tea?' a voice breaks into his reverie.
'Is she talking to me? Am I Mr Smith?
'There's apple crumble or rhubarb tart for dessert and shepherds pie for the main meal, or your favourite – macaroni cheese.'
Is it? What does it taste like, I ask myself?
It is sad when I look back on all I was capable of, and now I can't even tie up my own shoelaces. I think of all the places I've been in the world, and now I'm trapped in this single building.
Everyday is the same here. They call it a home, but it feels more like a prison. The residents who've still got a mind are not as badly off as the others who haven't. 'The Wanderers' are like wind-up toys, changing direction when they bump into an obstacle. They seem to run on Duracell Batteries because they never stop, night or day. Others, mostly staff, call them less pleasant names, like 'zombies' or 'the living dead.' Still maybe that's their way of coping with the tiring motion of the totally ungrounded. I am lucid most of the time but these 'vegetables' as one particularly sadistic carer named them, never are. They don't talk, just make noises, if any sound at all. They are no different from those kids euphemistically dubbed as having learning difficulties. They scream, they shout, they have temper tantrums and call for their mothers, long since dead (They are now their own parents, in body at least – if still children at heart). Again, you can hear the same cries of despair within the walls of a prison but from true youngsters, waking up to the hell that their lives have become.
Looking out the window, I see mashed-potato clouds floating by. Yesterday they were like sailing ship, their bottoms gouged out on yonder mountain tops, wrecked on the reefs of open despair. Even if I cannot escape this prison physically because my body is too weak, at least my mind can fly free on wings of imagination.
We are all dreamers here. We dream that we are children playing in the woods and fields – swimming in the rivers of yesterday. Our future is your past and our past, your future. We are the husks of what was – the skeletons of what might have been. We are the dusty plains and you, the fertile jungle, running riot. We are the old river, silted up and running dry of energy – the rocky promise, now empty.
All you see when you look at us is a vacant tent – worn canvas, stretched over a rickety frame. The wind whistles between our years, making sounds few can decipher or want to.
Outside, foam towers float down the dark river, like icebergs on a sea of trouble. Last winter it burst its banks, sweeping them clear like some giant broom, combing the reeds and weeds flat. 'How do you like your hair, sir?' asked nature's hairdresser, washing away all protests with a wave of its hand.
On the land, an ocean of corn is awash with green straw that drowns my imagination.
I remember twisted bodies in my youth, writhing in agony – lovers or the dying? Oh blotched body, where is your unblemished skin of yesteryear? Here I am today but where exactly is that? Mary, where are you when I need you? Long gone as I soon hope to be.
Where are my old friends, my wartime buddies? Gone too, mostly – some well before their time, either mercifully with a crack of a bullet or unmercifully torn to shreds by a landmine or falling shell. One minute a recognisable human being, the next a blood spattered pile of offal : A hand that once shook mine, a foot that walked beside me or worst of all, a detached head or an unrecognisable face, torn off in seconds, that an instant ago was a live human being, a name you knew. I threw up the first time. After that the shock paled my skin and stilled my heart and tongue. Now I can't wait until I join them all, once more in the past I knew and loved. This sterile world holds me in thrall still, though – until it lets me go at its whim, not mine.
We who are about to die, salute you as you replace us on the conveyor belt of life and we slide inexorably towards its edge, eventually to tip into the dark pit of unknowing. Our minds precede us and our bodies come slowly crumbling after. This is our fate and your inheritance. You are fresh troops in this war of survival. Welcome to the chaos and confusion that is the battle of life. Take your seats for the journey that never really ends – just seems to as we fight towards the light and drift back into the dark. Know me now as I lose sight of you and become an empty symbol. The rocket is burnt out. The light and life's gone – vacant of me and those I loved and lost...