I think it might be my birthday today. A kind lady with blue glasses has brought me a cake with a candle on it, and nurses are singing the birthday song for me. They have brought the cake into the room I woke up in this morning, a room which houses a bed that is not my own and a wardrobe with clothes that are too big.
Everyone smiles at me as I blow out the candle, pats me on the back. One of the nurses feeds me a slice of the cake, which has chunks of apple and pear in it. They are all calling me Mrs. Delaware, and I feel sorry for whoever the hell Mrs. Delaware is for missing out on this cake.
I’m alone now. I want to find my daughter and ask her if she knows if it’s really my birthday, but I don’t know which way to go to find her. I strain to pull myself into my wheelchair and I wheel myself down the empty hall, past rooms identical to the one I just woke up in. My arms start to tire as I reach a large recreational room, and I go in there to look for her. The room is hot, so I undress completely, letting the warm air from the duct above flow over my bare skin. I am fatigued from the warm air and the exertion, so I let my head hang forward and take a nap.
I wake up in the middle of an unknown bed, in an unknown room. I think it might be someone’s birthday today, because there are birthday cards on the storage chest. Or maybe, their birthday has passed, and these cards have been gathering dust. I strain to sit up on my elbows, and then push myself up to a sitting position. My hands are cold, and when I look down at them, I see they are not my own. There are mountains of saggy skin over these bones, as if the hands have been hollowed out. I try to move my fingers, but the foreign fingers move instead. I wonder if they’ve transplanted someone else’s hands onto my wrists, because my hands are normally fat, my fingers filled out with muscle.
Not skin and bone.
My stomach rumbles, and I don’t know the last time I ate. I pull back my blanket and see a giant yellow urine stain on the starch white bedding.
I’ve never wet the bed before.
Someone rushes in, a nurse. “What’s the matter, Mrs. Delaware?”
I scream again. I try to speak, but my brain is hot and all I can say is, “Pee!”
The nurse nods sympathetically and speaks into a device made of plastic. A few moments later another two nurses come into the room carrying clean linen. They clean the foreign urine off me and help me into my wheelchair. As two of the nurses change the sheets, the third nurse talks with me. “How are you feeling, Mrs. Delaware?”
I open my mouth to speak, but the voice that comes out isn’t mine. It’s hoarse and crackly, like television static. “Where am I?”
“Honey, you’re in Heavenly Hills Nursing Home.”
“No, I’m not! Where’s Lillian?”
The nurse hesitates.
“I want to know where my daughter is!”
The nurse sighs. “She’s dead, Mrs. Delaware. She died many years ago.”
I laugh, but my hands shake. “How spiteful! Did she put you up to this?”
“No, Mrs. Delaware.”
“I’m not Mrs. Delaware. You’re confused. I’m…” I frown, look down at the old hands again. There is a brown birthmark between the left index finger and thumb, the same birthmark I was born with. They must have tattooed it onto the transplanted hand to trick me. “You swapped my hands!”
I stand from the wheelchair and immediately fall forward, my bones turning to rubber. The nurse catches me, and with the help of the two other nurses, they lift me back into bed.
“I’m not tired! Put me down!”
I look at the hands of the nurses, all plump, no skin-mountains in sight. I bite the hand closest to me until I taste blood. The blood is warm in my mouth, and I wonder if I’m a vampire. The blood tastes okay, so maybe I am?
Before I can make up my mind, my mouth is pried off of the plump hand and I feel something prick me. I rip the sheets off of me and sit up, but now my muscles are gone and my bones are gone and my gone is—
I open my eyes and see a young lady sitting in the chair next to me. She’s holding a present wrapped in brown paper with a lilac bow.
Although my throat is parched I manage to say, “Who’s grandma?”
She smiles, tentatively. “You’re my grandma. I’m Lillian.”
“I’m not grandma, and you’re not Lillian. Go to hell.”
“I’m your daughter Lillian’s daughter, Lillian.”
I laugh. “Lillian doesn’t have any daughters. She’s two.”
The girl’s smile fades. “Of course.”
“And whoever the hell you are, this was a mean prank for you to play on me.”
Her eyes well up with tears, and I smile. “I’m sorry, really.”
“I hope I never see you again.”
She opens her mouth, but no words come out. I reach for the water on the bedside table, but my arms have shortened because I can’t reach it.
“Here, let me,” the fake Lillian says, pouring me a cup of water. She hands it to me, and I take a sip. It tastes sour, so I spit it into her face.
“You’ve poisoned me!” I scream, dropping the cup and clutching my throat. I claw at my throat until I feel it start to open, and the fake Lillian screams. Two nurses run into the room and restrain me. I try to wiggle free but feel a prick and—
My throat is throbbing. There is a brown present on the chair next to my bed. I pull my legs over the side of the bed and pick it up. It’s of medium-weight, and solid, and I wonder who left it there. It’s not addressed to anyone, so I unwrap it and see it’s a photo album.
The beginning is all photos I’ve seen before—me as a child, me marrying Davie before the war, Lillian as a baby.
What comes next, I have no words to describe. It’s a series of photos that Davie isn’t in. Photos that show how after Lillian gets married, she ceases to exist. The rest of the photos are of my family and me aging, our skin slowly drooping to gravity, our smiles fading. The last photo is a portrait of an old lady with the same blue eyes as me. I pull myself into my wheelchair and wheel myself to the room’s connected bathroom.
The bathroom mirror doesn’t reflect me, but the old lady from the photos. I move my hand, and the old lady moves hers.
Something inside me cracks, and I remember.
I cry, and I don’t stop. Not because I’m old and look like death’s mother, but because I know that I will yet again forget that I’ve forgotten, and when I do, I might have no way back.
But, for now, I sit in front of the mirror, rocking myself, repeating my name and the names of my family. Because maybe, just maybe, if I repeat them enough, they will keep from disappearing.
A nurse helps me settle into bed, and when they turn off the lights the room goes pitch black.
The nurse rushes back in, and the lights turn back on. “Are you okay, Mrs. Delaware?”
I can’t talk. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t—
“Mrs. Delaware?” Her voice is concerned.
“I just thought that—” I breathe. “I disappeared. Will you stay here with me?”
The nurse nods and sits on the edge of my bed. She holds my hand, and I try to fight sleep so that I don’t disappear into the darkness. I think of my granddaughter who came to visit me. Her grim expression as she clutched the present to her chest. Lorelai, was it? I think of all the people in the photos, and wonder where they’ve all gone to, why Lorelai was the only one to visit me today. When it was that they all stopped caring. What I ever did to make them forget about me. If I live in a world where I’m not loved, am I even truly alive?
I let go of the nurse’s hand and close my eyes.
This time, I don’t fight the darkness.