First published in Puckerbrush Review, Summer/Fall 2010.
Memory is a fragile thing, and sometimes love is not enough.
“Charlotte, it’s time to plant the Hungarian wax beans.”
Charlotte brushed past Jake. “I’m a little busy here.” Three assistants hurried to prepare the giant pans of tuna casserole for the oven. In an hour, hordes of elementary students would descend on the cafeteria demanding their hot lunch.
“But the beans! It’s time.” Jake was clearly agitated.
“So, plant the beans.”
Jake was in constant motion. He didn’t know what to do with his hands. “We haven’t tilled yet.”
Charlotte smiled as she brushed butter over the buns ready for the oven. She wiped flour off her hands and faced him. “Then till.”
“My back hurts too much.”
“Rent a tiller.”
Now it was Jake’s turn to smile. “Sure. Let me borrow the Ford and put the tiller in back.”
“Remember, Jake . . .. The wagon is in the shop having the brakes done.”
“Sure, sure. I forgot.”
“You could rent the tiller from Hanson’s Hardware store on East14th Street. If you cut through the alley and it’s only three blocks to the garden.”
He lowered his head. “They don’t like me at that store. They get mad when I come in.”
“I talked to them, Jake. They were upset when you walked out with the box of nails.”
“I wasn’t stealing.”
“I know. You were so excited about our son’s Scout project that you forgot to pay. You got ahead of yourself.” Jake moved restlessly from foot to foot. He stuck his hands in the giant pockets of his Oshkosh overalls. “I talked to Mr. Hanson. He knows you aren’t a thief. I told the people at the store that sometimes your brain doesn’t work the way it used to.”
“You told them that?”
She put her calming hand on his arm. “They already knew. But they didn’t understand early onset Alzheimer’s.”
“What do you mean?”
“As young as you are, they didn’t expect you to be so…forgetful.”
“It’s not my fault.”
“I know, Jake. I know.”
“So, plant the beans.”
Photo by Mateusz Feliksik on Pexels.com
Charlotte walked over to the counter and picked up her notepad. She carefully printed a note.
Ace Hardware on 14th Street.
Tell the man there to put it on your account.
They will put gas in it for you.
Buy the seeds at the hardware store.
Till the garden in the lot behind our house.
Plant Hungarian wax beans.
“Here’s a note to remind you. You can show it to the hardware men if you want.”
He looked over the note. “Thanks.”
She stopped him from putting the note away. “You will remember better if you hold the note in your hand.”
He looked down at the paper as if seeing it for the first time.
“Sure, sure,” Jake said, “the note.”
Charlotte ushered him to the door. “Have a good time in the garden, dear.”
When she came back, Jenny (the assistant cook) gave her a hug. “How many times is that?”
“That’s the third time he’s rented a tiller this month. It’s probably the fifth time he’s planted the seeds. The people at Hanson’s have been good about it.”
“Of course, they have. They’re getting a lot of mileage out of that old tiller.”
“One of these days, though,” Charlotte said, “he’s going to leave it somewhere I can’t find it, or it’s going to be stolen, or he’ll break it.”
“That’s why they rent him the old one.” Jenny dried her eyes on her sleeve.
“Maybe you should put on the note that he needs to return it?”
“He always loses the note. Plus I’m not sure he can read all the way to the end of the list. Three items seem to be his limit.”
“How much longer can you keep this up?”
“I don’t know. But the longer I can keep him out of an institution, the sharper his mind will be.” She lifted the large pan of buns in the oven. “In twenty years of marriage, we’ve slept six nights apart. What will happen when I look into his face and all I see is a vacant stare?” She closed the oven door and set the timer. “As long as he’s planting beans, we’re all right.”
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