Blank Walls with Memories (Short Story)

by Katie Ann



I wrote this short story last spring semester for my creative writing class.  It is loosely based off of my understandings of my grandmother's struggle with Alzheimer's but mostly from other depictions I've seen and read within the last couple of years. 

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Kelly walked up the stairs with a tray of lunch.  It was a simple lunch, just a turkey sandwich with mayo, some saltine crackers, a glass of water, and a cup of herbal tea.  Walking up the stairs, Kelly frowned at the wall on her left and noticed the darker blotches of white paint scattered on the wall.  She didn’t stop but continued up the stairs, making a mental note that she needed to repaint the wall. The pictures she had taken down could never reoccupy that space, at least not for a while. It had been three months since she’d taken them down because of severity of her mother’s sickness.  As she reached the top of the stairs, she turned down the stark hallway.  The hallway and doors also had no pictures or any color, just a white canvas staring blankly back at her, and she hated it.  Kelly loved color, and this was simply white, just like a hospital; that, however, was the purpose of it.  She made her way to the only open door at the end of the hallway and walked through the threshold.  It was the room most secluded from the rest of the house; no one would bother the inhabitant if visiting, and it was the same room she had occupied as a girl.  She crossed the large open room, passing the queen sized bed on the wall on the left and the big oak armoire that separated the two windows on her way to the rocking chair in the corner.  The accent wall behind the bed had been repainted white from the very bright blue that Kelly had loved when she was a teenager.  In the rocking chair in the corner, Kelly found her mother in black slacks and a pastel purple sweater. Her short hair was grey and speckled with black, complimenting her dark Polynesian looking skin.  She sat there, simply staring into oblivion, until she realized Kelly’s presence. 
            “Liz, you sweetheart! You didn’t have to bring me lunch.”
            “Oh, it was no problem, Claire,” Kelly as she replied, not bothering to correcting her.
Kelly bent down, laid the tray on her mother’s lap, and pulled out a napkin, gently tucking it into her purple sweater as a bib.  Then, realizing how stuffy the room was, Kelly moved toward the windows. She drew the simple, beige curtains and cracked open the windows to flood the room with a little more color and some fresh air.  As she did this, she remembered the warmth from the sunlight that peaked through the big sycamore tree as the sun rose in the morning and she lay in bed on lazy Saturday mornings during high school.
            Her mother quizzically looked at the sandwich on her plate.  “Liz, do I like turkey? I don’t think I do!”
            Kelly, disoriented from her daydream, stared at her mother for a second and then recalling the question answered.
            “Yes, you do, Claire.  Go ahead and have a bite.”
            Kelly watched as she hesitantly put the sandwich to her mouth and took a small bite.  Her mother’s lips then broke into a grin, her eyes widened, and she quickly chewed to make room for another larger bite.  Kelly stood there, a small grin peeping through her worry as she saw the joy in her mother’s face and thanked God that hadn’t turned into an argument or a fit.  Kelly turned around to make the bed.  She pulled the navy blue sheets up, straightened the comforter, and folded the sheets back on top.  Her mother continued to inhale her sandwich, worrying Kelly.
            “Slow down Mom—Claire.”
            That was a close one.
            Her mother didn’t seem to notice the slip or heed her advice and was done with the sandwich in a matter of minutes, quickly moving onto the saltines and the glass of water.  As she was finishing her water and getting ready to move onto the tea, she suddenly looked up with wide eyes.
            “Oh, Liz, I just remembered.  I don’t have to work tomorrow afternoon at the restaurant so maybe we could go out?”
            “Where do you want to go?” asked Kelly, seating herself on the newly made bed.
            “Well, we could go to the beach and bring a picnic.”
“That sounds great.  Do you have work earlier in the day? We could make a day of it.”
“Liz, you know I work at the hotel in the mornings,” her mother said with a confused look on her face.
“Oh yeah, I—uhm—forgot,” fumbled Kelly as she shifted uncomfortably on the bed.
“Goodness gracious, Liz, your mind is already going, and we’re only 26! You should worry about that; you’re getting as bad as my grandmother.”
“Sorry, I’m just having an off day.”
“Well anyways, I won’t get back from work until one, so we can leave for the beach around two or later.”
“Okay, that would work.”
“Wait, don’t you have to work tomorrow though?  It’s Wednesday, and you usually have a shift at the department store.”
            Kelly paused.  She focused in on the quizzical look on her mother’s face, looking for a clue. She had to pick her answer carefully.
            “Well, I’m just going to ask for the day off since I don’t think I’ve taken any days off yet.  Besides, you have the day off, and it will be good for us to spend some time together at the beach.”
            Her mother seemed satisfied with the answer and sat there quietly.  Now it was time for Kelly to start initiating some questions.  From what she could tell, her mother thought she was back in Florida with her best friend.  Kelly tried to conjure up some more facts from stories she had heard her mother tell of her past.
            “Are any of the other girls coming with us?” asked Kelly hesitantly.
            “Oh, we should do that.  I mean invite the other girls! That would be fun; it could be like a little house excursion!” her mother replied excitedly.
            “Yeah, we should definitely do that.”
            Her mother smiled and then turned her attention again towards her tea.  Kelly watched her for a moment, took a deep breath, and then quickly gathered herself from the bed.  But as she reached the door she heard her mother speak again.
            “Oh and Liz, you never told me how your date went with that guy the other night. Oh, what was his name?” asked her mother as she leaned forward over the tray with her tea in hand.
            Kelly startled and confused stopped suddenly.  Trying to hide her confusion in her facial expressions she breathed and turned to face her mother.  “His name?” she asked.
            “Yeah—uhm—it was Jake, no Joe, no um…”
            Kelly started fidgeting in place.  She wasn’t prepared for this question.  She had never heard this story, and her mother was giving her nothing to help her answer other than the fact that her date’s name obviously started with a J.
            “Oh, I don’t remember,” stated Kelly as she stood firmly in her place by the door.
            “How can you not remember? You’ve been seeing him for a week or so!” her mother interjected, leaning farther over her tray eyes focused on Kelly.
            Kelly slowly started walking back across the room.  “Well, I mean it hasn’t been that many dates and…”
            “Oh come on, you were spilling your guts about this guy the other night with the other girls.  I know I couldn’t stay to listen then because I had work in the morning, but that’s no excuse for you keeping this from me!”
            Kelly reached the corner of the bed and planted herself firmly on the comforter.  “No I’m not keeping anything from you it’s just…”
            “It’s just what?” interrupted her mother again.  This time her tone was harsher, and Kelly could see her cheeks flush with a little bit of anger.  “What is going on? I thought we were better friends than this!”
            “Oh come on, Claire.  I tell you stuff all of the time.  I just can’t remember his name!”
            “Why can’t you remember his name? You could remember it the other night.”
            “I told you I’m having an off day!”
            “That’s no excuse.  This is about me not telling you about Sam right away, isn’t it? You’re punishing me!”
            Now Kelly really had no idea what her mother was talking about, and it was making her more and more nervous.  The nice breeze that was coming through the window was not much comfort anymore.  She took a couple steps to her mother, kneeled next to the rocking chair, and reached for her hand. 
            “Claire, this is not payback, I promise you.  I’ve completely forgotten about the whole Sam thing.  Now just calm down,” said Kelly in the most reassuring tone she could muster.
            Her mother ripped her hand out from Kelly’s and screamed, “No, I will not calm down! You will not tell me to calm down! What is his name?”
            “I don’t kn….”
            “No, tell me his name.”
            “I really don’t remem…..”
            “Tell me his name goddammit!”
            “Mom, I don’t remember!” screamed Kelly.
            Kelly bit her lip nervously hoping that she didn’t notice slip like earlier.  However, her mother’s face went white and she froze, spilling her now lukewarm tea all over herself and the tray.  Kelly jumped up and tried to stop the tea from spreading, hoping to distract her mother from the obvious mistake she had made. 
            “Oh, no, Claire, you’re soaking,” said Kelly removing the tray to the floor and inspecting how wet her mother’s slacks were.
            “What did you just call me?”
            “I called you Claire.”
            “No, you called me mom! Why did you call me mom?” yelled her mother as she rose from the rocker, allowing the tea to spread down her slacks.
            Kelly rose from the floor.  “I didn’t call you mom.”
            “Oh yes you did! Are you calling me crazy?”
            “I’m not calling you crazy!”
            With arms flailing her mother yelled, “You think I’m crazy, don’t you? Who are you anyways?”
            This was not good.  Her mother had gone from thinking she was her old friend Liz to not knowing who she was at all.
            “My name is Kelly.”
            “Why did you just call me mom?”
            “I didn’t just call you mom.”
            “Yes, you did!” yelled the woman.
            Kelly firmly placed her hands on her mother’s shoulders and said, “Claire, please calm down, please!”
            “No, don’t tell me to calm down! Get out! Get out!” cried her mother wriggling out of her grip.
“But Claire, your pants!”
“No!  Get out!” screamed the woman.
Kelly quickly grabbed the tray, power-walked across the room and through the door, shutting it behind her.  She stood there for a second, just trying to catch her breath.  It was a stupid mistake; she’d made a stupid mistake.  She took one last deep breath to compose herself and made her way back down the stark white hallway she hated and down the stairs with the tray to meet her father at the base of the stairs.
“Is she okay? I heard the commotion! What happened?” he asked with an extremely worried look on his face.
As Kelly quickly made her way around the banister through the hallway and into the kitchen she answered him.  “She’s fine. I’m just returning the tray and then I’ll go back up.  She thought I was Liz and was talking to me about Florida.  At first I was following, but then she asked me about a story I had never heard before.  I didn’t know how to answer. She got annoyed, went from annoyed to upset, and then just lost it.”  Kelly.  Her father followed her with more questions.
“That can’t be all.”
Kelly set the tray and all it contents into the sink.  Then turning around said, “Well, yeah, I accidentally called her mom.”
“Kelly!” exclaimed her father with that “you know better than that look.”   “What did you say after that?”
“After that, she spilled her tea and then she didn’t know who I was and was confused and just wanted me out so I left.”
She turned back to the sink where she had placed the tray and the utensils and started washing them.
“Dad, it’s fine, really.  I’ve got it under control,” she muttered.
“Okay,” he said as he sighed.  “So it’s not a good day to see her?”
“No I don’t think so, Dad.  She’s pretty worked up and can you really handle her thinking you’re her first husband again?”
“Probably not,” replied her father, his chest falling in disappointment.
As she finished washing the dishes Kelly thought about how they had gotten this far.  When her mother was diagnosed a year ago they had already known it was Alzheimer’s.  She had gotten lost in a parking lot twice trying to find the old family car that they had sold ten years ago and then it escalated to finding her on the side of the road not knowing where she was.  However, her mother would not let them take her to the doctor.  Last year, they finally persuaded her after she was found in the mall bathroom stall crying because she couldn’t remember where she was.  Then three month ago, her mother completely lost lucidity and after a week, Kelly and her father realized that pictures and familiar things only aggravated the situation.  Now the difficulty was dealing with her mother who never recognized Kelly or her father and while she could handle it, her father just couldn’t anymore.
She left the kitchen sink after wiping her hands on the dishtowel and made her way over to her father who was sitting at the kitchen table.  She placed her hands on his shoulders and began to massage his tired muscles. 
“Everything is going to be just fine.  I have it all under control,” she said, trying to reassure him.  She stooped, kissed his cheek, and made her way back through the hallway to the stairs.  She went back up to the blank white stairs through the stark hallway and knocked at the closed door at the end of the hallway.
Knock, knock, knock.
“Claire? Can I come in?”
“Who is it?” asked the muffled voice behind the door.  She at least sounded in a better mood.
“It’s Kelly.”
“Oh, Kelly, come on in.”
Kelly slowly opened the door, assessing the situation before opening it completely.  Her mother sat in the corner in the rocking chair looked towards the door and smiled.  Kelly sighed and fully opened the door and made her way her.  She was still wearing the same black slacks that were still soaked in tea.
“Oh Claire! What happened to your pants?” asked Kelly trying to act surprised.
Her mother furrowed her brow, looked down at her pants, felt them and looked up and said, “I don’t know?”
“Okay that's alright, let’s change them.”
“Ok,” Claire answered hesitantly.
Kelly moved to the armoire and opened the fourth drawer, to see three piles of black slacks.  Black slacks were the only pants her mother would wear, but as long as there were no meltdowns that didn’t matter.   She pulled out a pair and looked over at her mother to see her in her underwear with the tea soaked black pants in a pile next to the rocking chair.  Kelly chuckled in amusement.  She thought back to all those times she had babysat and how that was exactly what a child of three or four years would do and here was her mother of sixty-two years doing the exact same thing.  After shutting the drawer, Kelly walked over to her mother and helped her put on her pants.  As soon as the pants were back on, her mother walked over to the rocker and sat down.
“Do you need anything else, Claire?”
“No, I’m fine.  Thank you, um…”
“Kelly.  My name’s Kelly.”
“Thank you so much Kelly.”
“You’re welcome.”
Kelly stood and walked back across the room and had almost reached the door when she heard Claire.
“I have a girl.”
Kelly turned around feeling the tear starting to well up in her eyes.  “You do?”
“Yes, she’s gorgeous, and her name is Kelly just like yours.”
Kelly paused before answering.  This “coincidence” had come up before but she had never described Kelly as gorgeous, but instead she just always stated the fact of the same name.  The comment caught her off guard, and Kelly had no idea what to say in response.
“I love her very much.”
Kelly smiled, held back the tears, walked to the door, and turned around to see Claire staring into the distance.
“Do you want the door open or closed?”
“What?” asked Claire coming out of her trance.
“I asked if you want the door open or closed?”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Kelly.”
“I have a daughter named Kelly.”
Kelly sighed.  It was all just distant memories that sometimes came back, but only in bits and pieces.  Her mother would never recognize her daughter or her husband ever again.
“That’s neat. Do you want the door open or closed?”
“The door opened please.  Thank you,” Claire said with the most beautiful smile.
“No problem.  Have a good afternoon.”
But Claire didn’t hear her.  She just sat there in her chair for the rest of the afternoon lost in the memories of her mind.