Nothing’s certain anymore, not when it comes to Stephen. Some days, he flings open the door and greets me with a firm smile and a clap on the shoulder, and it’s then that I remember him as he used to be. The student who worked hard and earned good grades, the son who gave up his chance at college to take over Dad’s shop, the brother who stayed with us for years after Danny enlisted. Solid. Steadfast. Always there.
Other days, he looks at me and thinks I’m Dad, or Uncle Evan, or even Danny. Ruth says we’re lucky he remembers our names at all, this far into the disease. She’s been doing a lot of research from the beginning—even more now that he’s moved in with her. Personally, I don’t see where the luck comes in, what with him getting dementia at the ripe old age of forty eight.
Ruth’s place is nice, a cream-colored house tucked onto the edge of a side-street. With its worn lemony shutters and its white wooden porch, it’s the kind of place you could call quaint. I’m his brother and Ruth’s only a cousin, but we both agreed he’d like it better here—at least, better than my cluttered, cramped apartment in the city. It doesn’t make me a bad person, I don’t think. I mean, at least I drive up to visit him once or twice a month.
Today, he’s outside when I pull into the driveway. He’s wearing an old t-shirt and baggy pants, shuffling towards the edge of the yard with a pleasant smile on his face. I almost don’t want to interrupt him—he looks more peaceful than I’ve seen him in a while, but Ruth says that when he tries to run away, it’s better to divert him early on. Before he gets lost and upset.
There’s a white picket fence in front of me. I need to get over it—I need to go home, back to Mom and Dad and Danny and Michael. Where...what am I doing here? I need to go home. Home. I need to--
I slam the car door shut. Dammit, where’s Ruth when you need her? She’s much better at dealing with him than I’ll ever be. I walk up behind him and tap him on the shoulder. He turns around, raising an eyebrow. I force a warm smile.
“Stephen? Stephen, hi.”
Someone taps my shoulder, and I blink. Another tap, and I turn around.
A man stands behind me, shifting from foot to foot. I don’t recognize him. He has wild graying hair, muddy green eyes. His brow is furrowed in concern. Something about him seems familiar, but I can’t…
He stares at me blankly. He starts to turn around, and I reach out and grab his wrist.
“Stephen, you need to go home. We’re going to go home now, ok?”
He frowns and tilts his head.
He’s saying something now, but it’s as if his words are bouncing off of my mind. I can’t catch them, can’t understand them. He says something about home...
“Home? That’s where I’m going. I’m going home.”
I shake my head and point towards the house.
“Home is that way.”
The man shakes his head. No, home is that way? What? What is he saying? I turn and look. A strange house looms over me, stiff and cream-colored. No, no—he can’t make me go there, I have to go home! Who is he? What does he want? No, he can’t make me, I won’t go, I…
He follows my gaze and a change comes over him. His brow furrows, his muscles tense, and he wrenches his arm out of my grip, his eyes wild.
I take a step back.
I swallow and hold up my hands.
“Stephen, come on. Come inside. You know me.”
He squints at me, and I can see the anger slowly draining from his face as he forgets.
“Dammit! Stephen, you know me!”
Where am I? The man in front of me...do I know him? He looks like my father.
He pauses and stares at me for a moment. Dad?
I’m your brother, I want to say, but it’s hopeless. I know it’ll only upset him, but I have to bite my tongue to prevent the words from coming out.
Something is off; my father’s hair has always been cropped close to his head, and his eyes are brown. Still, the resemblance is so clear...who else could it be?
“Yeah. It’s me. I’m Dad. Stephen, let’s go inside, ok?”
The man hesitates, but he finally nods. Yes; it’s him.
He lets me guide him across the lawn and towards the door.
Relief mingles with the uneasiness in my stomach, but I push it all aside as he guides me towards the house.
I glance towards the window and see another man on the other side. He looks like the first, but he’s older, and his hair is shorter. He wears what seems to be pajamas—an old t-shirt and a baggy pair of pants. He’s thin and weak, in dire need of a shave, and confusion darkens his eyes. I almost feel sorry for him.
“Who’s that? Who’s that inside the house? I don’t know him.”
He freezes suddenly as we pass the window, and his brow furrows again.
He’s staring at his own reflection.