Postcard from John – David Daigneault
John is sitting in front of the window, staring down at the stained front of his sweatpants. The stain doesn’t concern him really. He can’t remember how it got there or even what it is from. He is tired and feels like leaving. His neck starts to hurt from looking down. So he looks up.
Outside, autumn is rapidly turning to that other season. Grey and drab except for an occasional whitewash of snow blowing through. John doesn’t see any of that. His body shudders slightly. What he sees behind his eyes is from another place and time. You see John is a time traveler. His body doesn’t leave. Only his mind.
Another thing about John’s time travelling is it has no relationship to his present or past life. That’s one of the things he likes best. Some people call him a waste of space in this life so he is happiest when he travels. He always goes to the same geographical location and always within a short time of when he was last there. John has been doing this for a while now. He doesn’t remember when it started. He doesn’t know how he does it. He thought at first he was just daydreaming. That was until he met Delia. He is in love with Delia. And that’s reason enough to go. Over and over again.
John is sitting in a pew on Sunday. Our Precious Blood is a Roman Catholic church in a little 1930’s mining town. The small choir is singing but John is staring at the young woman across the aisle sitting with her family. When John looks at Delia he feels like his whole life is ahead of him. Delia looks sideways at John and he imagines she gives him a hint of a smile.
John has a routine, everyday life at Pleasant Acres Lodge. He is the youngest person in a facility populated by much older people. Many of them with classic cases of dementia. Lots of garden variety Alzheimer’s. Some poor souls with vascular dementia. As if a stroke or heart attack wasn’t bad enough they have received the gift that keeps on giving. Some possible cases of Lewy Body but you can never be one hundred percent sure about that diagnosis. People can fall asleep standing up or be in the throes of some incredible hallucination that grips them so tightly they can barely breathe. Some of John’s neighbors have graduated from Parkinson’s to dementia. They’ve gone to the head of a class that has no size limits.
John’s official diagnosis is frontotemporal dementia. That makes him pretty special at age forty three. He knows he is. His mother always told him so.
The church service is over. As people file out some of them stop to talk. John stops in front of Delia. He is never sure if she remembers him so he is always careful.
The room where John sits staring out the window has two beds in it. Two identical desks, two small dressers and one mirror. John makes a habit of never looking in the mirror. He doesn’t want to see his prematurely white hair or the wrinkles. There are some family photographs and children’s drawings taped to the walls. Nieces and nephews. It’s supposed to be helpful for the residents to see familiar people and things they recognize. Even if you have to put your glasses on to see them. If you can find your glasses. If someone else isn’t wearing them.
There are starlings on the lawn outside Pleasant Acres. Their hunting and pecking movement catches the attention of John’s roommate Robert. Robert has been watching John as he often does. Bob, as he calls himself, is in his early eighties. No family to speak of. No visitors, not even at Christmas. His closest friend is John even though he knows it’s pretty much a one way relationship. Robert is one of the few people at the Lodge without dementia. Something startles the murmuration and the birds all lift off together. John doesn’t blink.
Robert aka Bob shuffles over to the window. Robert is a tall man, hunched over with lots of wild salt and pepper hair. He is careful walking, not wanting to fall, again.
John told Robert about his time travelling and Delia one time. He told him how much he loved her and how the travelling, his other life, made him feel worthwhile. Robert smiled and nodded his head. “Bring me back a souvenir sometime would ya?” he had said with a nervous laugh. John never mentioned time travelling again.
John is now lying on his bed motionless. Robert slowly lowers himself, sitting on the edge of the bed beside John. “John, can you hear me? It’s Bob. We need to go for dinner. Remember what they said last time we were late!”
John smiles at Delia. She is twenty years old with thick, dark hair and eyes that are always on the move. Now she is looking right at John. She sees a handsome, young man with brown hair and blue eyes. John says “Hello stranger, do you come here often?” Delia takes a deep breath. “John it’s not funny anymore. Where have you been?”
The layout of Pleasant Acres Lodge is classic institutional. Front door on a buzzer. Staff desk in the reception area. To the left of the desk is a long hallway with wooden handrail. Battered metal doors stand guard on the bedrooms. There are always residents in the hallway. Walkers and wheelchairs coming and going. Sometimes a solitary person standing still in the hallway. There are little groups, cliques, just like in high school. There is an “in crowd” at Pleasant Acres. John is not part of it. For one thing he’s too young. For another he has a habit of telling off colour jokes when he does talk and if you make the mistake of laughing at one then he starts to pile on with one after the other. John and Robert are shuffling down the hall together.
Robert has his fingers in his ears but he can still hear John. “Why were men given larger brains than dogs?” Robert sticks his fingers further in his ears and closes his eyes but he can still hear John laughing. “So they won’t hump women’s legs at cocktail parties.”
Delia is frowning and smiling at the same time as she says “Can we go for a walk?” John rubs his hands together as he falls in step with Delia. The church is on the main street of the little town. There is a wooden sidewalk. “John we have to make a commitment to each other. Our lives can’t continue on this once in a while basis. Can you do that? Do you love me enough to put down some roots?”
The foursome sitting at the dining room table is silent. They don’t get to choose their dining companions. The two men and two women are looking down and only one person is eating. Robert enjoys mealtimes. Three times a day Robert is guaranteed to have a smile on his face. The food doesn’t have to be good. Even if the jello is warm and there is only one cookie to go with it, Robert’s world is bright.
He wishes the people here would call him Bob. He moved in not long ago and wants so badly to be part of a group. However the name on his file is Robert and no one calls him anything else. Keeping him at a distance by calling him Robert he thinks. Calling him Bob would be like giving him a hug. Not much hugging goes on at Pleasant Acres. John has never called him by any name that he can remember.
John hasn’t said a word during the entire meal. Until now. “What do you call someone who refuses to fart in public?” One of the women sitting at the table named Margaret struggles to stand up. She clutches her walker like a life preserver. “Don’t you want to know the answer Maggie?” John says. He is serious, staring at her. Margaret scowls at John and says “The day they take you out of here with a sheet over your head will be one of the happiest days of my life. Why don’t you just die already?” John ignores Margaret and looks at Robert, then Cecile. Robert chokes on his cookie. Cecile says “John you told us that one last week. It was as stupid as all the others you know.” John gets up abruptly and heads for his room.
Robert looks at Cecile. “I don’t remember that one, what do you call someone who refuses to fart in public?” Cecile sneers at Robert. “A tutor, Robert, a goddamn private tutor.”
Delia has tears in her green eyes. “John you have to stay. You need to stay. We can be a family. You just need to try.” John has trouble keeping the tears from his own eyes. “Delia you are all I’ve ever wanted. I just have some unfinished business to take care of and then we can be together. Can you wait for me one more time?
John is lying on his bed, face down when Robert enters their room. Robert notices he is clutching what looks like a postcard in his hand. Robert decides to give John a pep talk, to try and make him feel better about his life. “You know John if you tried harder to get along people would like you. Maybe cut down on the jokes and just talk about the weather and the fact that you’re missing some socks. People want to be able to relate to you. They want to know that you’re not some kind of alien.” John doesn’t move and when Robert takes a bold step and touches him, there is no reaction. In fact, John doesn’t seem to be breathing and is cold to the touch. Robert turns so quickly he almost loses his balance. “Nurse” he croaks from the doorway. “We, we need help in here.”
Across the street from the care facility sits a strip mall. It boasts a variety store, a pet shop and a small travel agency called “Patel’s Fantasy Tours”. Robert has exit privileges from Pleasant Acres. The staff trust him to come back and he never wanders very far. He can remember the passcode to let himself back in. Robert is standing outside Patel’s. He is clutching an old postcard from the 1930’s. He has an almost overwhelming urge to go in and look at the glossy travel pamphlets he can see through the tinted window. Robert turns and slowly walks back to Pleasant Acres. Some people call it the Lodge. Robert calls it home.