Kara Mae Brown
MARTHA PAINTS THE SUNSET
Martha was standing over a pot of boiling water. Her sweat ran down the collar of her blouse. She plunked jar after jar of this year’s garden tomatoes into the water to heat-seal the lid. No one ever actually used the tomatoes besides Martha. The jars just piled higher and higher on the shelves in the basement, so that Martha’s son George had to come over to rotate the last year’s stock. She used to give her son George flat box-tops full of jars whenever he visited, but now he seemed content to buy canned tomatoes at Kroger. Plus, now the doctor had Martha and Tom on a special diet on account of Tom’s heart, so there was only so much she could do with them. Sometimes George’s daughter, Angie, took a jar home, saying how a poor college girl would take food anywhere she could get it.
Martha canned the tomatoes because Martha had always canned the tomatoes. She didn’t want to hear about it if she just stopped one day. What a fuss that would be. She would do what was required, what was expected, just as she always had.
Each jar had to be dropped down just so, lowered via a pair of tongs. As she held one jar hovering over the pot, the phone rang. She lost her grip and the jar crashed down with a splash of hot water. She stepped back, patting at her clothes as if they had caught fire. She didn’t seem to be burned. She peered in the pot where the jar had dropped into its spot, nestled against the others. It would do.
By the fourth ring of the phone, Martha had regained her composure. She wiped her hands on a dishtowel. It seemed like just a second ago those hands had been smooth and moist. But, no, of course, that must have been 50 or 60 years ago now when Tom had first slipped that tiny diamond over her porcelain finger. She used to admire how the gleam of that stone disappeared as she pulled gloves on against the cold. Later, she could remember almost the exact morning, when she had been clipping earrings on her ears, when she first noticed the impending gauntness around her knuckles.
On what must have been the fifth ring, Martha picked up the cordless receiver. “Hello?”
She didn’t understand the first moments of the call. It took a second for it to dawn.
She was surprised by how calm she felt. She clicked off the phone and carried it with her, cradled in her arms like a baby, into the den. In a daze, forgetting the jars ticking away in the pot, she sat in his Laz-E Boy.
The officer had asked, “Is this Mrs. Turner?”
That had thrown her. After all, wasn’t it just a few years ago that she was still Miss Drechsler and he was just Tom?
Martha had been having more of those episodes lately. There she’d be, hanging the clothes on the line, when suddenly she could swear she was back on her family’s farm in Indiana rather than the soot-stained city in Ohio. Or, recently, she’d been chatting with George’s wife, Kim, though she could have sworn it was her sister, Denise, by the way she bounced her leg as she spoke. Martha knew that Denise had died fifteen years ago.
It was like all the many years of Martha’s life were collapsing in on each other. Each one was vying for space in her consciousness. One time, over Mother’s day brunch at George’s, Angie had tried to explain to her something she had learned in one of her classes at the university. Angie’s sausage casserole sat untouched on the plate in front of her. She held her fork in one hand, waving it to the beat of her words, like she was conducting an orchestra. Martha recognized this gesture from when she’d get excited as a baby. “Professor Mullen said space and time are not what they seemed. That somewhere every moment is still happening and will always be happening. And it’s all backed by science! Isn’t it crazy?”
Martha wasn’t an educated woman, but it didn’t sound crazy to her. It sounded true.
Otherwise, how would one explain the sensation that she was still, at this very moment, in the doughnut shop where she held her first job in West Lafayette, Indiana? She could still see Tom striding through the door, full of false bravado. She could tell, even then, that the swagger and smile on his round, smooth face was meant to mask the insecurities of a farm boy at the university on a scholarship. He used to lean against the counter as she scrubbed the surface clean, bragging to her about the money he’d make as an engineer once he graduated. He kept his promise, to be sure, but she never had the heart to tell him, even after all these years, that it was the farm boy she loved most.
After all, she wasn’t anything more. In fact, the only reason she was hanging around that college town in 1952 was because last year’s crop had failed so miserably that the family needed her, only sixteen years old, to bring in some extra money.
Martha loved her work at the doughnut shop. She could still feel the plump, sticky mound of dough against her palms. The rhythm she used to twirl the rod stuck through each bun so that it fried even on all sides was the same rhythm she’d use to slow dance with a boy.
“You know, it was probably an engineer who designed that machine,” Tom pointed out one day, after they had been on a few dates, as he sipped his third cup of coffee.
“I suppose it was,” Martha answered, still twirling the dough.
“I wonder if he ever imagined such a beautiful girl using it.”
Martha blushed, fixing her attention on the task in front of her. “Oh, now. Don’t be silly.”
Tom put his mug down. His tone changed from playful to serious. “I want to invent something for you someday.”
Martha met Tom’s eyes long enough to lose her focus. One of the doughnuts fell to the bottom of the pool of oil. It would burn down there. Later, she’d have to fish it out with a long pair of tongs.
It was Tom’s turn, suddenly shy, to study his coffee, “I want to give you everything.”
Martha’s memories of that shop were so fond. Was it the satisfaction of earning a paycheck? Was it the way the prairie sunrise came blazing through the window while the rest of the campus was sleeping? Or was it Tom, leaning oh-so-casually against the glass? Or was it because, in hindsight, those were the last moments of innocence? After only a handful more dates George was on the way and, with trembling hands, Tom had slid that diamond over her naïve finger.
On the day she was jarring tomatoes, Martha could smell his menthol cigarettes in the weave of the upholstery of his chair. There, in the basket, were his newspapers, each folded to reveal the crossword. The one on top was nearly finished, a scramble of words: shoals, nightingale, intimate, Taos.
Of course, the doctors had another name for the collapsing of the space-time continuum. They called it dementia. They hadn’t even said it to her face, but rather whispered it to her son, George, as they shuffled her out of the examining room.
From where she sat Martha could see what he saw every day out the window: the empty street. The dilapidating houses, once home to so many nice families, now it seemed neighbors just kept to them selves. There, where the Buick usually sat, a chickadee hopped back and forth between oil stains.
“Yes,” Martha had answered the officer on the phone. “I’m Mrs. Turner.”
“Ma’am, I regret to inform you…”
It was just that morning, or was it every morning, that she had called after him, “Be careful!” as he backed the Buick out of the drive. He craved those simple errands like going out for a loaf of bread or attending a deacon’s meeting at the church. They gave him purpose even though George had proclaimed many times that he didn’t think it was safe for Dad to drive anymore.
But driving gave Tom back a part of the life he had, when every day there was work to be done. Somewhere to go. It was hard to say when that life had ended and this other one had begun. When was it that he first started to complain, for the first time in his life, about going into work? When was it that she starting catching him, right here in this very chair, dozing more often than reading? When was it that the neighborhood where they raised their children had become so unrecognizable? Where had the neighbors gone, the Ginslers, who had been so lovely, and invited them to games of euchre, and gin and tonics?
Martha could still see Tom across the Ginslers’ chic formica table. Mr. Ginsler was an architect and their home was like something Martha had seen in the movies. There was never any mail on the counter. There were no newspapers lying around. The dishes were always away in the cabinet. Mr. and Mrs. Ginsler matched their home. She wore red lipstick that never got on her teeth and he always held the door, pulled out the chair, and laughed at his guests’ jokes, no matter how unfunny.
Tom gathered up the cards from the last hand, letting his cigarette droop from his thick lips. He was always the one to stack the cards, no matter whose turn it was to deal. His fingers turned and tucked the cards with precision.
Martha was gossiping with Mrs. Ginsler. Robin was her name. So fitting for such a flittering, fragile thing.
“Did you see how Claire down the street is wearing her hair now?”
“Oh you mean with those big curls at the ends? I just don’t know how you manage that every morning.”
“Well, it’s not like she has that much going on with just little Annie. I think once she’s off to school Claire hardly leaves the house.”
“Why go through all that bother with your hair if you’re not going to show it off?”
“It’s your deal, Martha,” Tom said.
“Maybe she doesn’t have to leave the house. Maybe she has visitors.”
“What are you saying? You don’t think . . .”
“Jackie told me that she sees a handyman over there at least once a week.”
“But that house is brand new! You don’t think . . . ”
“Damn it, Martha,” Tom shouted. He flung the cards across the table at her. They fanned out over the table and onto the floor.
Martha felt her cheeks turning red. He was always so serious. She hated it. When they were alone he was a lamb, but here, across the table, he was cut from stone. He held out his upturned palm, “Are you going to deal?”
Robin reached out and grazed Tom’s shoulders with her champagne-pink polished nails. Martha could see him soften. Martha had always wondered about Tom and Mrs. Ginsler.
Martha pushed her chair back from the table. “I’m just going to go refresh my drink.”
In the kitchen, Martha pressed her palms against the edge of the sink. The drain was ringed with ashes. She heard someone, she assumed Tom, push through the saloon-style doors.
“Look, I know, I got carried away. I should have paid more attention to the game.”
She felt a hand on the knobby part of her hip. “You don’t have to explain yourself to me,” a voice, not Tom’s, murmured in her ear.
It wasn’t the first time Mr. Ginsler, Bob, had flirted with her, but it was the first time she could remember him touching her. His fingers applied just enough pressure for her to turn around. They faced each other for a long time. When he finally did kiss her, it wasn’t lascivious. He kissed her like you’d kiss a wife. Somehow, that made the desire Martha felt even more painful. Frightened, she squeezed past him and back to the table. She gathered the cards in front of her and began to shuffle the deck.
On the day Tom died, Martha looked around. Her home was nothing like the Ginslers’. When had it become so cluttered? Even the walls were full of pictures. Martha could barely make out the country-blue paint fading beneath them. Plus, she had so many more, stashed away in boxes tucked under the bed in the second room. George was supposed to come and help her frame and hang them. She had just reminded him yesterday. Or, she thought it was only yesterday.
Beside the window there was a whole series of Martha’s daughter, Jane, from all her travels as a stewardess, or, as Martha could hear her correcting for the millionth time, a flight attendant, as they liked to be called now. It was 1972 when Jane had told them that she wasn’t going to college.
Tom had been sitting right here in this chair, Martha was on the sofa knitting a hat for a friend’s newborn, when Jane marched in. Martha could tell she had hiked up her skirt. Martha still couldn’t fathom these girls showing so much skin. But Jane had to participate in every rebellion, no matter how small. Jane’s long strawberry hair was straight as a board. Martha knew it must have taken hours with the iron to tame it like that, even though Martha had forbade such a use of her good iron. She wondered if Jane had burned her head.
Jane stood tall, trying to be brave. “Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you. I’ve thought about it for a long time.”
Tom folded his paper. The clicking of Martha’s needles quieted.
Jane shifted from foot to foot. “I’ve decided not to go to Ohio State.”
After a brief pause, Tom answered, “I’ve already put down the deposit.”
“Sarah and I went down to the offices the other day to sign the papers. The pay is good. There are benefits . . .”
“Whatever in the world are you talking about?” Martha asked.
Jane pulled herself upright again, “I’m going to be a stewardess for Pan Am. I’ll be based in Cleveland, so I will be home almost every week . . .”
Tom dropped his paper to the floor. “You will do no such thing.”
“Dad, I’ve already decided. I want to see the world.”
Tom scoffed. “You want to see the world, do you? You think the world is a nice place? You have no idea how good you have it here. How many people would kill to have this home, to get a college education.”
Jane’s eyes glistened. “I know. It’s not that I’m not grateful . . .”
Tom exploded out of his chair. “Ungrateful is exactly what this is,” he shouted. “And once you figure out that the world is full of thieves and lunatics and rapists, don’t come crying to me.”
Jane turned to leave. Martha rose from her seat, reaching out an arm to stop her.
Tom pursued Jane to the door. Martha could hear them him in the hall, “If you walk out that door tonight, then don’t plan on coming back.”
Martha heard the door slam.
Martha found that she had risen from the Laz-E Boy. Her arm was outstretched, as though to stop the phantom Jane from leaving. Jane was gone for most of the next ten years. She kept her distance, but always sent postcards and photographs. First they were from glamorous places in the U.S., like Manhattan, and New Orleans, and even Hollywood. Later, the letters came less frequently, and from places farther and farther away, and with less and less familiar of names—Morocco, Kyoto, Java, Peru.
By the time Jane returned, with a spot on her belly that had grown in the sun, the doctors said it was too late. Within the year they had lost Jane to the cancer. Martha felt so guilty. She could remember how Jane, so fair, had burned every summer lying on the dock by the lake. Her and her friends would pass around bottles of baby oil to rub onto their skin, drawing in the light. They just hadn’t known then. No one had known.
It took a moment for Martha to shake it off. She had to remember that was all so long ago. All that was past.
Now, the tomatoes she was canning were still clattering away in the kitchen. The newspapers were still folded in their basket. The pictures were there hanging on every inch of the wall. The cordless phone was still cradled in her arms from just a second ago when she hung up with the officer.
Martha went to the kitchen. She noticed that the light coming through the windows had gone yellow with dusk. The jars were bumping around in only a couple of inches of violent water. She turned off the stove.
She stood for a moment just staring down into the pot. Martha didn’t know what to feel. They had married so young, and that had been a blessing and a curse. Who knows if they would have even married if it weren’t for George? Who knew if their love would have run its course if they hadn’t been forced together? Oh, they had loved each other in those early days, that was certain, how else had little George come to be in the first place? And nothing was more certain than Martha’s love for her children. But, for a long time Martha had just been too afraid. Afraid that if she confronted Tom—about Robin Ginsler, about Jane, about all of the little things like always eating meat and potatoes for dinner, even when she wanted spaghetti—then he would leave. She let this fear drive almost all her decisions. She spent so much energy trying to please him.
He was all she’d ever known. For a long time, she didn’t know if she could take care of herself if she were ever on her own. She’d gone straight from her mother’s house to his. She never had a chance when she was young, like Jane, to go find herself. All of Martha’s roles had been written for her: obedient daughter, dutiful wife, doting mother, grandmother, and now, grieving widow.
There had been a time, though, when Martha had tried to write her own script. Unlike the rest of her past, that came back unbidden and forceful, Martha could barely conjure any memories from that time in her life, the time she had escaped. At that moment, when her husband had just died out there on State Route 43, probably from a heart attack behind the wheel, Martha was determined to remember.
She was going to paint that yellow dusk light. She could sit right there, at the kitchen table, and paint the view out the back window. She’d capture it just like she remembered, when those big pines had just been their planted Christmas trees, and when a tire swing had hung from the oak. She’d even put Harry’s doghouse in the picture. She hadn’t thought of Harry in years.
Martha thought there might be some old acrylics in the linen closet. She moved more slowly than she used to, but that just meant she could spend more time among the pictures hanging in the hall. There was her eldest, George, at his wedding to Kim. He was the only one of her children to ever marry. There were Mike and Angie, George and Kim’s children looking hot and pink at Disney World. Next came Angie, pimply for the prom, and then Mike at his own wedding. At the end was the newest addition, Olive, Mike’s newborn daughter, all flush and ugly.
In the small space between the last bedroom on the right and the hall closet was an 8 x 10 of her youngest, Freddie. You couldn’t tell from looking, but Freddie was seated in his wheelchair, looking handsome in his Sunday suit. How long had it been since his last portrait?
Martha could still hear him laugh. Despite being born with muscular dystrophy, Freddie had always been the happiest of her children. He had made Tom the happiest, too.
She remembered the day that the entire roster of the Cleveland Indians signed a baseball for him. Tom had wheeled him into the kitchen faster than Martha would normally approve. Martha didn’t say anything though, they both looked so flush and healthy. She squeezed the dirty dishwater from the sponge and turned just in time to catch a peck on the cheek from Tom.
“Son, show your mom what you got.”
“Here, Mom, catch!” Freddie lobbed the baseball at her. She caught it against her chest. She turned the ball around in her hands.
“It looks like someone scribbled all over this thing,” she remarked.
“Well, that’s kind of exactly what they did,” Tom stage-whispered to Freddie.
“Mom, those are the signatures of every single player on the Indians.”
“Oh my goodness! That’s wonderful.”
“All of them. I got Tony Horton, Lee Maye. I even got Luis Tiant! They told me I should come work for them someday. I told them I was good with numbers and they said maybe I could work with the management or be a scout or something. Wouldn’t that be cool?
“It would be, sweetheart,” Martha answered, setting the ball down on the kitchen table. Martha crossed the kitchen and leaned into Tom’s side, where they could both watch their boy as he picked up the ball and turned it over and over again, like a crystal ball that might tell him his future.
Of course, they both knew that future would be abbreviated. Freddie only lived to be nineteen. Even that last year, he could still recite every statistic from the Indians’ season.
Martha opened the hall closet to reveal layers of time like the walls of a canyon. First, she moved the blood pressure monitor, then the walker Tom had used after his operation. There were boxes of gauze, antiseptics, and orthopedic inserts. Beneath those were tennis rackets, a Halloween decoration separated from the rest of the box in the attic, the reams of the genealogy report Tom had poured over, trying to trace all the way back to the first Irish farmer who had born their family. Martha worried, moving some of these things. She could hear George’s censorious voice warning, “You’re too old for that, Mom.”
There, tucked in behind a space heater on the floor, Martha found her box of paints and brushes and a stack of blank and half-blank canvases.
Martha tucked a canvas beneath her arm and grasped the handle on the box of paints. As she rose to go back to the kitchen, another picture caught her eye. This one was of her in her youth with two other young women. The picture was taken before Freddie died, before Jane left, and even before her life began to feel like a prison.
The three women in the picture were all decked out in little black dresses and pearls. It was 1964 and Tom had just been promoted to management. Martha had just joined the Kaiser Lady’s Club. The picture had been taken at their annual gala to support needy children. Martha loved her monthly meetings with the other ladies. They were some of her only friends back then. She also always felt a little left out. The other members were so refined. Many had met their husbands while actually enrolled in college, or were the daughters of wealthy engineers and bankers, who simply married into their same class.
Martha remembered a time when her granddaughter, Angie, had stood beside her and looked at this same picture. She asked, “Who is this, grandma?”
“That’s me, sweetheart.”
“Can’t you tell?”
Angie paused. “No. None of them look like you at all.”
Martha glanced over at Angie. She couldn’t figure it. Not only did her own likeness in the photo seem plain as day, but, to Martha, it looked just like Angie, too. Sure, the style of dress had changed, but there were some things that endured through the generations.
Finally, Martha pointed.
“Oh my god!” Angie said.
“Dear . . . ” Martha started to protest Angie’s blasphemy.
“But she’s the prettiest one!”
Martha didn’t know whether to feel flattered or insulted that her granddaughter, herself a beauty, couldn’t recognize that beauty in her grandmother in her old age.
Martha pulled herself up as much as she could. “That was the Lady’s Club at Kaiser. It was the only fun I had back then. The men worked all the time. This was our only way to get away. We had to make it seem official.”
Martha didn’t know why she had said that. She could feel Angie’s eyes on her, but she was gracious enough to say, “huh,” and then just casually move on to the next photo, a formal, full-family portrait from when Angie was just a baby. Tom was there, but it occurred to Martha that he was never really the subject of the photo. He was always there, just hovering in the corner, a quiet, disengaged, but benevolent presence.
Martha studied Angie studying the portrait. She could compose herself well, but Martha could still see the questions that she wanted to ask stitched across her brow. Yes, many things endured through generations, including a tendency to avoid talking about difficult things.
By the time Martha returned to the kitchen, the light was fading. She still felt compelled to capture that yellow light. Something in that yellow light reminded her.
She tried to twist the top off the crumpled tube of Cadmium Yellow, but it wouldn’t budge. She didn’t know who kept putting all these lids on so tight. Finally, she got the kitchen shears and cut open the end of the tube, letting the paint ooze out onto the ancient palette she had found among the sheets and dated letters in the closet.
The sharp scent of the paint carried her away. Now she remembered. It wasn’t long after Freddie had passed. Jane had already left and George was studying at Kent State, but it was before Martha started working at the bank. Tom was at the height of his career, traveling all the time to make deals on raw materials or attend trade shows, all business Martha wasn’t allowed and wouldn’t want to tend to.
For the first time ever, Martha could make decisions based solely on her own wants and desires. Martha exercised that new freedom by deciding to take a painting class. Martha had always wanted to paint, ever since the Lady’s Club had held an event at the art museum downtown. Martha’s eyes were drawn by a Van Gogh, “The Poplars at Saint Rémy.” From across the room, it just looked like two trees, but as she moved closer and closer, she realized that the trees grew less and less important. The painting, she realized was less about “the big picture” and more about the details. She didn’t know until she was standing so close she was afraid her nose would touch that you could see the traces of the bristles of the brush on the canvas. She never knew that most paintings weren’t flat, but were textured with mounds of paint. It was just like her life, where the big picture seemed to be one, simple thing, but was actually composed of many other, smaller things, some invisible unless closely examined.
Martha didn’t even tell Tom about the class. She took the money for the fee right out of the account without asking. Even driving herself to the community center felt like a coup. It was the biggest rebellion of all her then forty years.
Martha drew the Cadmium Yellow across the canvas. The scratch of the bristles sounded safe and familiar, like the memory of an old song on the radio. She let the stroke be sloppy. She let the paint thicken around the edges of the brush. She let the music of that stroke guide her to the next.
That was always what Owen had told her. Let each stroke decide what the next stroke will be.
Martha still remembered the first day of class. The instructor, Owen, had sat them all down, housewives every last one, in front of a canvas with a full set of paints and brushes, and told them to do what felt good.
There was a snicker among the ladies who expected explicit instruction on how to compose landscapes and portraits. They wanted to be comforted with the two-thirds rule, the color wheel, the perfect proportion.
Martha, in her first act of defiant self-determination, raised her brush. And, with a sumptuous helping of Cadmium yellow she began to turn the white canvas into a searing evening shade of marigold.
Owen began to circulate the room and, before Martha even noticed he was there, he was hovering just behind her, guiding her hand. Martha knew, from that first touch, that nothing would ever be the same.
Martha began staying late after class. Owen would spend hours giving her extra lessons, sometimes until the fluorescents in the studio were the only lights left on in the community center. Sometimes, Owen would barely say anything at all during these after-hours sessions. He’d just let Martha paint and talk about her life. Martha loved how he’d listen.
In fact, Martha started to love a lot of things about Owen. She loved the way he always pushed his shaggy hair behind his ear. She loved the way he’d break out in song whenever something she said reminded him of a lyric. She loved that Owen lived on a houseboat on Lake Erie with no one else but his Black Lab, Sheila. Before she knew it, Martha loved Owen.
She was still the same, timid Martha, though, too afraid to act.
One night, during one of their late-night lessons, Owen asked Martha to put down her brush.
“Just stop,” he whispered. He lowered her hand with his.
Martha dropped the brush into a glass of water with a shaking hand. When he kissed her, she thought about how strange the stubble on his face felt. She thought his hands felt strange moving up her thigh. The aching in the very pit of her was strange, too. But then she realized how good that strangeness felt, and she let go.
That summer, Martha drove to New Mexico with Owen. She left a note for Tom, trying to explain. She spent that entire summer painting and making love. Martha met a shaman and danced around a campfire. She wore long skirts and didn’t comb her hair. She did so many things that she had never done.
Martha always knew she would go back and when she did, Tom didn’t say a word. He just opened the door and let her back in their house. After that summer, Tom and Martha were kinder to each other. The many years between them didn’t feel like a prison anymore. Instead, that deep knowledge of each other helped them settle into a long peace.
The peace had lasted until today when the phone rang. Martha began to feel her grief for Tom settle into her stomach. She poured that grief onto the canvas. She felt herself crying more in her throat and in her heart. She was old and her hands and eyes were dry. Who was going to take care of her? That had been part of their understanding when she had come back. Neither one of them wanted anyone else to see them through the indignities of growing old.
Martha started at the sound of the front door, but before she could set her things aside, her son, George, was standing in the kitchen door, looking worried and angry. Martha found herself wondering when her boy had gotten so old.
They both stayed there for a moment, looking at one another. Mother at son, son at mother. Martha got an uncomfortable feeling as though George were seeing her as a stranger. Even as a baby he had kept his distance, happy in his crib among his toys.
In many ways, George was most like Martha of all her children. George always did what was required and, unlike his defiant sister, had led quite a conventional life. In some ways, Martha felt sorry for him. She wondered whom he was trying to accommodate with all his good behavior. His wife? Children? Martha was sure that she was one of those people.
Martha felt like George had never really known her. In fact, he never even found out about Owen or New Mexico. Martha wasn’t even sure that he knew that she painted. She could feel a tightness on her cheek where a stray glob of paint was drying. She raised her fingers, still shockingly wrinkled, to touch the mark. She stiffened with embarrassment. How must she appear to him?
Martha wondered how much longer she would even know herself. Every day she felt who she was now slipping away, joining with all those other women she had been. It was just like Angie’s professor had said. Everything that had happened would always be happening. No one knew this better than the old. Everyone talked about how close the doctors were to a breakthrough. How one day they’d unlock the secret and cure Alzheimer’s forever. Martha wondered if Alzheimer’s was a disease at all, or only an expansion of consciousness. Maybe it just took some time for the human mind to break free of linearity and to truly understand time and live as they were always meant to live—everywhere and all the time. Maybe some people never got there at all.
George finally spoke, “Didn’t you hear the phone ring?”
“I did. I just sat down for a moment.” There was no way to explain.
George rubbed a thick hand across his face. Martha knew that somewhere, at the same time, she washed ice cream off of his boyish face. Right then, Jane was flying over the Atlantic, serving Scotch to well-heeled businessmen.
“We have to go get Dad,” George said.
“I know, I just need to get my things,” Martha began to pack her paints back into their box, to be hidden away again.
“Do you know what happened, Mom? The doctor at the hospital said that they called you first. He said that you were on your way. That was hours ago.”
Martha looked out the back window. The light was completely gone. Only the blue night sky remained. Hours ago, Freddie had come home from the ball game with Tom.
“Jesus, Mom, someone has to claim the body,” George said.
Martha could vaguely remember the ringing of the phone, the news of an accident, the boiling water, the yellow dusk, the kids, the diamond. Owen. She held those memories right there with all the others. The doctors were wrong when they spoke of memory loss. The problem wasn’t a dearth of memory; the problem was abundance. She wanted to tell George that she wasn’t losing her memory at all. She remembered it all. It was only just a second ago that they were all right here together.