She pressed her back against the door and slid to the ground, watching a bead of moisture lose its grip on the steel spout as she made her way to the floor. The water droplet splattered against the porcelain bowl just before she reached the molded tiles. She snapped out of her hypnosis once she heard sluggish steps scaling the hallway staircase.
Beth covered her ears with her hands and squeezed so tightly, a puff of air ruffled the graying hair covering the back of her neck. Tears rained on her lap as she rocked and hummed, trying to drown out the nearing groans reverberating through the door.
A knock from outside sent chills down Beth’s spine, turning her hums into howls and her rhythmic swaying into violent thrashing. She writhed about until the back of her head collided with the metal knob beside her, leaving a speck of blood clinging to the vertical lock as her limp body slid to the floor.
“What’s wrong with her?” Chris asked as his mom disappeared at the top of the staircase.
“Gee, I don’t know, Chris,” answered Robyn. “Maybe it has something to do with two strangers showing up on her doorstep, insisting they’re her children?”
“We ARE her children.”
“Not in her mind, we aren’t.”
Robyn opened the screen door for Chris and followed him into the foyer.
“But I spoke to her on the phone just last week,” Chris said as they ascended the stairs. “I told her we were coming by today.”
“And I’ve been trying to tell you for months now that she has dementia, but you seem to forget that pretty easily.”
“You don’t know it’s dementia.”
“You’re right, she’s probably just trippin’ balls.”
“Is that some symptom you’re studying? I don’t know what that means?”
“What, there wasn’t a lot of acid dropping going on at divinity school?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“There probably wasn’t much laughter either.”
Chris ended the conversation with a scoff as they reached the top of the stairs.
“Christ, is she humming?” Robyn asked.
“Mom?” Chris said, tapping the door with his knuckles.
“Mom, open up,” Robyn said, followed by a firm strike with the side of her fist.
Chris cupped his hand between the door and his ear and listened for a response. Their eyes widened once they heard the crashing of bone against brass.
“MOM,” Chris yelled, jiggling the handle. “Shoot! It’s locked.”
“Shit,” Robyn muttered as she rifled through her hair for a bobby pin. “Didn’t I tell you this would happen?”
“This isn’t the time for I-told-you-so’s.”
“Only God can judge you, right?”
“Condescending remarks aren’t going to unlock this door.”
Robyn rolled her eyes and removed a pin from her bun. Her brown hair unfurled over her shoulders as she straightened the curved piece of metal and slid it into the narrow hole in the center of the knob. She fidgeted the instrument with surgical precision until the latch clicked.
“God dammit,” Robyn grumbled.
“What? it sounded like it worked.”
“I know, but the door won’t move. She must be leaning on it.”
Chris pushed Robyn aside and rested his shoulder against the door. He pushed off the ground with his leg until a tiny opening started to form.
“FUCK,” Chris shouted. “Call 9-1-1!”
“You said ‘fuck?’” Robyn noted.
She glimpsed through the opening while taking her phone out of her pocket. She spotted the top of her mom’s head lying in a puddle of blood on the bathroom floor.
“Good, she’s awake,” Dr. Bachman noted.
“It’s Alzheimer’s, isn’t it?” asked Robyn.
“I’m afraid so,” he replied.
“Happy?” Chris asked.
“Yes, Chris, I’m fucking ecstatic.”
She looked down at her mom to see how she was taking the news. Beth was wearing the same bewildered expression she wore when she answered the door.
“Mrs. Carlisle,” Dr. Bachman interrupted. “According to the brain scans and what your children have told me, it appears you have Stage 4 Alzheimer’s.”
“How many stages are there?” Chris asked.
“Seven,” Robyn answered.
“I was asking the doctor.”
“You’re not a doctor yet. You’re still in school.”
“I’m in my residency, dick. That means I have an MD.”
Once Robyn stopped talking she could hear her mother sobbing.
“Will you two please step outside for a moment,” Dr. Bachman interjected.
Robyn stormed out of the room without saying another word. Chris gave his mom a kiss on the forehead and followed his sister’s lead.
“Enjoy it while it lasts,” Robyn continued as soon as her brother appeared in the hallway.
“How can you be so cold about this?”
“Because I know how Alzheimer’s works, Chris. Back in med school we used to call it the Zombie Disease. It could take months or even years, but one of these days, mom will be nothing more than an animated corpse.”
“And then what, we shoot her in the head?”
“No. We take her off medical support and let nature run its course.”
“If we’re not doing everything in our power to save her, we’re killing her.”
“And if we let her become a bed-wetting, pants-shitting, incoherent shell of herself, we’re killing every laugh, every smile and every wonderful moment we’ve ever shared with her. MEMORIES are life after death, Chris; not some fucking gated community in the clouds where she and your dad will reunite and live happily ever after.”
“I don’t appreciate you belittling my life’s work.”
“Yeah? Well now you know how mom feels.”
Robyn’s wall of words broke like a dam holding back a flood of tears. She turned towards the window and stared at her mother until she became blurred beyond recognition.
Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Vrinda Agrawal