Robert closed his eyes to hold back an unexpected swell of tears. It had been six years since he visited Sadie here at Fletcher House. His own cowardice and regret had kept him from visiting her more often. He simply couldn’t bear to see Sadie slipping away from him.
Regaining his composure, he pushed the door release button and entered the secure unit. He approached the nurse at the reception desk.
“Hello. I’ve come to see Sadie. Sadie McNichol,” he said. “A very old friend of mine.”
“Our dear, sweet, Sadie. Room N101, just down the hall to your left. And you’re?”
“Robert. Robert Saunders.”
“Mr. Saunders, she may not recognize you right away, but she has her moments. Only her niece visits her now. She used to have many visitors. But one-by-one, they stopped coming. When did you see her last?” she asked.
A simple question, only requiring a simple answer. Yet at that moment, he could only remember skipping his flute lesson, the hovering sun in the winter sky, her porcelain skin, the way her auburn braid fell over her shoulder, and her look of mischief — the very first day he met her.
“Five or six years ago. I visited once, just after she moved here,” he replied. Shortly after his 80th birthday, Robert received a change of address notice from Sadie’s niece. Sadie had been moved from her spacious apartment overtop the bakery — where she had lived most of her life — to a room in a long-term care home for people with Alzheimer’s. He had grieved for Sadie and her loss of independence.
Walking to Sadie’s room, he remembered how difficult it had been to see her starting to lose her memory of him and their past bond. He mourned the life they might have shared had he only found the courage to stand up to his father.
When he arrived at Sadie’s room, he knocked lightly on the open door and entered slowly.
Perched on the edge of the low bed was a small sparrow of a lady. She was sitting upright, eyes closed, napping. Dressed in a leopard-print jacket, brown velvet pants, with a gold necklace and matching earrings, Sadie McNichol had not lost her fashion sense — this he could plainly see.
“Sadie?” he whispered.
Suddenly, her bright blue eyes flashed open and she smiled warmly at him.
“Hello,” Sadie exclaimed clapping her hands in delight. “A visitor! Come and sit beside me,” she said, patting the bed. “Right here. Would you like to put your coat down? Did you walk here? Your cheeks are rosy! What was your name again?”
Finding no hooks or unlocked closets to hang his hat and coat, Robert lay them over an embroidered Elizabethan lady chair.
“Is this, okay?” he asked. “I can see it’s still your favourite,” commenting on the worn brocade around the chair’s feet.
“That’s fine, but where will you sit?” she asked.
“There? Beside you?”
“Yes, right here. And you are?”
He straightened his collar and carefully folded himself to sit beside her on the low bed.
“Robert. Robert Saunders,” he said. “And you are?” he asked, looking for a flicker of recognition in her eyes.
“I’m Sadie. Sadie McNichol!” she replied pointing to herself. “You remind me of someone I knew very well. Besides, I don’t let just anyone sit on my bed, especially without a chaperone nearby,” she laughed as she shook a mock fist toward him.
They laughed together.
The silver charm bracelet he had given her jingled on her slender wrist. After being promoted for his agriculture research in his early twenties, he had saved judiciously for the bracelet for a whole year. The following Christmas, he gave it to her. Recognition for his research and travel to international conferences, however, took him far away from Sadie for months at a time. While away, he wrote her long letters and affixed tiny charms to each letter; a rolling pin from Paris, measuring spoons from Chicago, a whisk from London.
When Sadie and Robert talked about getting married in their late twenties, their parents strongly disapproved.
“She’s too independent,” Robert’s father quipped. “Not to mention uneducated and fatherless.”
“His family is beyond our class,” Sadie’s mother warned. “Mark my words, you would be bound by their charity.”
Sadie and Robert were heartbroken by their parents’ reactions but both knew that protesting was futile and disownment could cost them dearly. They resigned to go their separate ways: Robert engrossed in his research and Sadie, working long hours, running the bakery for her mother. Chance encounters, however, at music concerts, on the sidewalk, in the arboretum, reminded them of the tender love, passion and desire they once shared and the piercing heartache of being apart.
Outside her room’s window, snow gently swirled into delicate meringue drifts while the sun set quickly in the cool, pink sky.
Sadie folded her hands in her lap and nestled beside him. Placing his arm gently around her small frame, she softened in his embrace. It seemed as though a warm blanket had encircled them. She slid her hand over his forearm and rubbed the crease of his flannel shirtsleeve between her fingers. His eyes closed as the tears rose up again, this time falling freely.
Sadie looked at him with sadness and curiosity. “Why have you come?”
“I’ve missed you so much. More than you’ll ever know,” he said, taking her small hand in his and squeezing it gently. “Do you know me?”
“You’re my friend but I can’t remember your name. Can we stay friends?” she asked. “Forever, just like this?”
“Yes, Sadie,” he replied while stroking her hand. “Forever. Just like this.”
She kissed his tear-stained cheek and whispered, “My love. You are here.”
Marion J. May lives in Ottawa, Canada. She is an online reading and writing tutor for children with dyslexia and creator of the Barrhaven Writers’ Circle.Before 2016, Marion wrote professionally in Ottawa for various Canadian government departments and agencies, including the National Research Council of Canada. Previously, Marion worked as a copywriter in Sudbury, Toronto, and as a news writer in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She hosts a food history and recipe blog, BarrhavenBites and also writes for The Open Door Educational Services Blog about dyslexia. Her favourite novel is Anna Karenina.