WE • by Jenn Ashton

I’m not sure how long Henry has been using my peppermint foot butter as a deodorant. I can’t blame him; the packaging is almost identical to his stick. I mentioned it to him and he shrugged and rubbed it under his other arm.

I’m keeping it in my underwear drawer from now on.

The days are getting longer here and though I am happy for the extra light, I’m becoming concerned about my own behaviour now that it’s unobscured by winter darkness. I wondered yesterday and physically shuddered at the thought that I might be too focused on searching for confusion, in the same way I would search the house for hidden pornography, in my old life; thorough and often, with the sad weight of obsession lying heavy on me. Dutiful.

A few years ago I finally reached that happy-medium spot at the intersection of being too busy with my own life and not having the time or inclination to care what somebody else was doing. It was freeing and pleasant.

But yesterday.

Yesterday, I wondered if my obsessive thoughts were back. Was I only ever looking at Henry as an object now, searching for signs and symptoms? I had to reach back twenty years to remember how I felt about him once, so in love and lust and longing.

The love is still here, I think, but it’s topped off with a big swirly dollop of concern. I push it away with my spoon to see what’s underneath and it’s a bowl full of fears, bits of crunchy things I don’t know what they are, and I don’t want to look, some liquidy stuff that looks messy and drops off my spoon onto my page, and finally at the bottom, I find them, some solid blocks of the old love that have been broken into rocky chunks over time.

But now it’s less of a feeling and more of a checklist.

Is he acting odd? Yes. Check. His agitation, paranoia and incoherent mumblings are showing through the little cracks in his polished armour. I scroll through the ever-ready list in my head to see if he has drunk enough water today; dehydration can cause his confusion. I recall what we had for dinner last night in case it’s upsetting his stomach or setting off a bleeding ulcer; he can’t always articulate where it hurts any more. I scan the room, is it too hot or too cold, I check what he’s wearing, does he have his slippers on? Temperature affects his mood.

The scales upset.

I measure my findings. The graph is plotted; loving kindness versus obsessive dementia observation. Right now we’re leaning aft. My brain fires away full throttle, checks and balances rule my days now.

Nobody tells you how to get old, or old and sick. You don’t get training wheels for this stuff. I try not to let anxiety overtake me, but some days it’s difficult when you’re not very brave.

It’s certainly not bravery now that impels me forward, just stubborn strength that pedals me up the hills. And instead of him riding beside me, I’m pulling Henry behind me, like a hot and tired three-year-old having a tantrum in the grocery store (sometimes he does think I’m his mother), or like we’re on a Schwinn tandem, and more and more I’m doing the pedalling. I’m not brave, I just have strong arms to right us when Henry’s gravitational force pulls us off balance.

Like last week at the Notary’s office, signing important house documents before it was ‘too late’. Henry asked a question and when I looked at him, into his eyes to try to understand the garbled thought that came out of his mouth, suddenly I was aware. I recognized the glitch in his thought process, and the blip on the radar screen telling me that Henry had probably passed his prime for signing any of these documents. His mental capacity had rapidly declined since I had made the initial appointment and if he was deemed incompetent at this stage, it would cost half of our savings to get through probate after Henry was gone.

I held my breath.

I tried not to snap my neck around when I looked at him. I forced myself to move in slow motion. I tried to hide my concern and soften my face. No sudden movements. But he saw, and his eyes widened.

“Just joking,” he quipped and turned to look at the floor. I tried to save him. I quickly changed the subject, hanging something shiny in front of the Notary, a bigger question asked quickly so she wouldn’t see, or if she had seen, so that she wouldn’t think too hard on it. Henry rallied and beamed at me.

“Oh yes, that’s what I meant!”

We were saved.

The Notary from having to address the confusion, Henry from embarrassment, and me momentarily, from a truth that’s rattling too fast towards us.

Now I wonder where we are on this map. Has the disease, in fact, come for us or are we living a life of expectation, where every little thing pushes the compass needle in one direction?

Regardless, I’ve decided to try and laugh with Henry more, try to get back to the old feeling; dig around down there in my singing bowl and bring it up on my spoon to see if I can remember what it tastes like. I’m ready for whatever comes next, but for now, I’ll try to be lighter and not let worry lead the way. Weather permitting, I can hold off the tipping point a bit longer. I’m not ready to go there yet.


Jenn Ashton is an award-winning author and visual artist living in North Vancouver, B.C. She is currently completing a book about the history of her First Nations family in Vancouver and is a Teaching Assistant in The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University, where she is helping others learn how to tell their stories.


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Every Day Fiction