Atticus sat in his hut, thinking.
Ida hadn’t returned last night, or the night before, or the night before that, and when he tried to recall the last time she had, his mind shot a blank. He simply couldn’t remember.
When the doctor diagnosed him with the onset of Alzheimer’s, Atticus prescribed his own medication. For fourteen years he had been dry, but now there was no reason to resist the call of moonshine and tobacco, not anymore, not when the bedrock of his sober life now slept beside a friend.
He couldn’t remember if the arguments began before he broke the seal, or after, but it made little difference beyond the details, the most important of which, the bottle was always empty. Returning to the ritual of his therapy was easy, easier than the secrets and lies and infidelity, and easier than the empty bed above. In the months which followed his diagnosis he worked at being drunk, the windmills and pumps he once repaired were left to weather the winds alone, his own storm swelling within.
At first he merely encountered difficulty remembering the small things, names and dates and schedules slipping from his mind. Insanity, he knew, was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, but he couldn’t remember the doing, and the result was always the same; he was going insane.
Soon he was unable to complete the simplest of tasks, confused by time and place, unable to understand visual images and spatial relationships, mumbling and stumbling and losing things, his wife the one he mourned the most, a victim of the condition he couldn’t control. His moods shifted beyond the rational, explanations erratic, the truth an admission he would not utter. So he withdrew into the bottle, the world beyond no longer one which acknowledged his new existence. But he didn’t blame Ida for leaving. He didn’t blame her for wanting something, or someone, better. The fault was his, and every day he blamed himself, those days on which he drank, and remembered who he was.
Looking at the purple hat hanging from the back of a chair beside him, Atticus struggled to identify its owner, the object a strange companion in the confines of the room. As he reached out to grab it he knocked an empty ‘shine jar over and watched it slowly roll along the table, finally disappearing beyond the precipice and landing on the rutted floor beneath. He looked back to the hat.
A flash. A memory. A woman.
Screaming. Fighting. Crying.
He closed his eyes, rubbed his forehead, and sighed.
Tainted. Tore up. Weak.
Eyes open he remained unable to recall the specifics of the fight, or whether there was a point at which either of them had ever been right. He stared at the open fire, flames quivering and sparks and embers soaring from the pit, each one bright and beautiful, but not for long. Beside the hearth lay a shattered vase; the fractured pieces weaved between twisted stems and brittle leaves, petals starved and empty. The crack in the plaster where the vase exploded against the wall had grown, its crooked tendrils reaching out towards him, his hunched silhouette flickering in and out of permanence.
He reached under the table and picked up the jar, slowly twisting it before his eyes and examining the distorted moonlight contained within the muddy glass. Placing it down on the table he ran his tongue against the encrusted surface of his teeth. He was thirsty, hungover and hungry. Staring at the empty tumbler he tried to remember where the ‘shine was hidden, the hut an awkward jumble of useless junk, each cupboard filled with unfamiliar items and fragments of a life he hadn’t lived. Everything he touched belonged to someone else, and as he wandered around the room the fury of displacement rose within. He was lost inside a stranger’s home. None of it made sense. The furniture. The foreign faces on the wall. The suitcase by the door.
He was looking for something but he couldn’t remember what it was. He couldn’t remember what he wanted. He couldn’t remember…he couldn’t remember…he couldn’t…
A photo…a house…a…woman…and…a…man…
Atticus examined his reflection in the shattered glass above the faded image. He looked beyond at the man within the photograph. The scar above his eye. The crooked nose. The smile. It was him. Younger. Thinner. Happier. And the woman. His woman. His wife. Ida. He caressed her face with the flat of his thumb, gently, tenderly, until a jagged piece of glass sliced his skin. The frame fell from his grasp and crashed to the floor, rupturing into smaller shards as a bead of blood landed on the photo, slowly soaking into the aged print. He stared at his wife, the coldness of her eyes, the blood on her face, something, finally, familiar.
Inside the pantry he stuck the last bottle of ‘shine into his jacket pocket, and found what he was looking for. Back in the front room he surveyed the remnants of the man he used to be and walked towards the table, the fallen frame crunching beneath his boot. Lifting the purple hat from the back of the chair he ripped the plastic flower from the rim and threw it into the fire. He lit a cigarette, placed the hat atop his head, and pushed through the smoke. The smile, this time, different.
Atticus stepped out into the night and exhaled beneath the branches, a windmill whistling in the distance, the shovel cutting through the snow.
He remembered now.
Ida had come home.
Photography by Ryan Licata