Whiteout – Mark Ward
February 14, 2023
I woke and it was just like any other morning. Glenn must have been rushing again because it was the door slam that roused me. I would go downstairs and find crumbs everywhere, the butter left out, and a burnt first round of toast. Glenn had a very important job at the Ministry. He was often stressed but our home was his retreat; he would unwind with me and be the man I first met, if not carefree then certainly unencumbered.
I swung my legs out of the bed. The unsteadiness in the movement, like a drunk hitting cold air, receded as I stood on my feet but pain shot through me: running up my spine, latticed across my shoulders, and across the back of my head, which felt like I had been punched. I stood in the pain and tried to think about beyond it, before it. Can’t remember. Must have been a lie then, as my mother would say.
I was sweating from the ache. I looked at the bed and there was a sweat image of myself. I headed into the shower, turned it onto full and practically scalded myself clean.
I took my tablets from the bathroom cabinet and held them in my hands: pain, inflammation and this one was for my memory. Would it make me remember? What had I forgotten? I took the tablets and went to look at myself in the mirror of the cabinet door and found none. It was a solid, wooden door.
I dried and started to dress. I pulled on a t-shirt and found myself bleeding from the back of my head, barely bleeding but consistently so. Little rivulets. I felt around there and came away with striations of blood and more questions. I looked at the bedsheet – the blood was matted in, dried, matted in again, a crust forming. Had it been like that yesterday? Had it been like that earlier?
Still sweating, the heat came on and I felt tired but I refused to sleep. That’s what I did yesterday, wasn’t it? I explored the back of my head with my hands the best I could. More blood. I began to feel woozy. The windows were fogging up. I needed to turn down the thermostat but there wasn’t one anywhere. I checked walls, cupboards. It must be an app on my phone. Where was my phone? I checked Find My Phone on my computer – a mostly empty screen with just a couple of shortcuts and a start menu that wouldn’t open – and it said it was in the middle of a blank, open expanse according to its mapping system but here it is on the kitchen counter: screen broken, battery dead, charger missing.
It is lunchtime. It is afternoon. It is dinnertime. Outside it is night. Today’s montage would barely cover an hour. My brain, defective. He was right. I can feel myself getting worked up. I sit in the armchair by the door, waiting for him, and let all the unexplained lost time fall away. I am happy. I love Glenn. I love him. When is he coming home?
“You dropped your phone. I did say to get a case but you didn’t want one.” Glenn was reading the newspaper at the dinner table. Neither of us were terribly hungry, so he’d just heated up some soup.
“I don’t remember that.”
“I know. That’s okay, Conor.”
A visceral heat flooded my chest, the panic of something very wrong. I stared at him, squinted, and willed the thought to come to the surface. “That’s not my name.”
He put down his paper. “Are you sure?”
“I know my own name.” I gestured dramatically but lost my grip on the spoon I was holding, accidentally flinging it at the wall. He stared at its flight and descent.
“What is it then?”
“You’re trying to trick me again. You’re always – I know my name.”
He got up and walked over to me. He placed a palm on my upper back and started rubbing, idly, in a figure of eight. His touch always calmed me and I remembered the thousands of times he’d done this before.
“Con- Did you take your medication today?”
“I know my name.” The line, that I’d cast into the depths, retrieved nothing. I started to cry. “Of course I do.” Did I?
“Do you?” Glenn went and retrieved my large pill case, with each day’s worth laid out for the whole month. He looked down at today. Saturday’s slot was full. “Conor.”
“That’s not right.”
“What do you mean?”
“No, it’s not.”
“You were at work all day. It’s night-time. You were at work.”
“Conor, it’s Saturday.” He started to cry. I remember him when he was happy. When we were. Young and carefree. Not this. Not what we have now. He held out the pills for me to take.
“I already took them.” I was shouting now.
“Take your pills.”
“I took them this morning.”
His crying was huge for a man normally so stoic. Like something had erupted in him. I’d never seen him like this before.
“I’m going to have to get help – a stranger to come to our house everyday – if you won’t take these.”
I took him in my arms. “Glenn, I took them this morning.”
He brought his face close to mine. “The pills. What are they for?”
“How long have we been together, Conor”
“My name’s not-”. But I saw us. Younger. I would wait for him to come home. I watched the world from the window. I was numb. I don’t remember much else. Just us and him. Nothing from before.
“Does our marriage mean nothing to you?”
“That’s not fair. Of course it does.”
He pulled himself out of my embrace. He stood up and, pushing his hand into my face, said “Well, take your fucking pills then.”
I woke up on the bathroom tile. I woke, on my side, on the floor beside the bed. I woke curled into the armchair, crick in my neck. He’d called me Conor.
I pulled on my oversized robe – like being wrapped in a heated towel – and walked to the window. It was snowing so hard that I couldn’t see our street. A blizzard of white. I stared, looking for inconsistencies. How easy would it be for him to fake that? He had money. Simple movie magic.
And I felt like a monster. The way he’d cried wasn’t fake. He was hurt. He called me Conor. Exasperated. There’s so much I can’t remember. Even that conversation, held at arms’ length. My brain slowly dissolving. Is it dementia? Is he lying to me? Is it both? Did I take my pills? Do I need them? He called me – I know it’s not my name but that’s hiding from me. I want him to hold me. Tormentor, lover, I don’t care. I need him. Why has this taken my name from me?
It’s been days. I am not hungry. Perhaps I have been feeding myself. Whipping up some haute cuisine. His stuff is still here. Post with his name on it. Nothing in mine.
I can’t shake the feeling that he’s lying to me. I scour the house for proof. I find nothing. I am so tired I fall into the armchair, into bed, I fall asleep on the toilet.
A nurse came. He sat in my armchair. He worked long shifts. When I was awake, he was there. Glenn was gone. No sign of him for days. He had vanished into the staged snow.
The nurse didn’t speak English. He fed me baby food and made sure I took my tablets. For pain. When I swallowed them all, he patted my arm like he was proud of me.
The snow outside the window obliterated everything. Outside of mealtimes, the nurse slept. A crick in my side. A memory of pain – there was none. I ran my hands over my head. Nothing. What does Glenn do for a living? Where did we meet?
The nurse drinks. He thinks I don’t notice – it’s easy to get one over on someone whose brain is supposedly failing – but my nose is as strong as ever. I smell the booze. You can’t drink on this medication, I remember the doctor saying. Ornate room, expensive consultant, blurry figures standing around with blurry faces, broken up with overemphasized frowns like a sad clown painting. I could remember then. I remember the fear of not remembering anymore, the one consistent thing between then and now.
A dream. A function. Glenn and I, the arm candy. Bored, I flirted with the bartender. The rage in Glenn. The blame. The volley. When was the last time you touched me? The loving husband. The carer. Those tears, lost, crying. Have I been cast off? Has he someone new, someone more stable, less likely to embarrass? The thick snow batters the glass.
Facing the window, on the phone. He’s much the same. He’s less there every day.
I throw off the blanket. Look at you, playing dumb. That’s what you want from me, to be less. That’s exactly what you want. Me to fade away to nothing. I throw my fists at him but they barely have the force of a scared child defensively playfighting, eyes closed and flailing. The nurse lifts me into his arms so easily, like I weigh nothing. He moves towards the bed but instead he holds me, cradles me. He sings in what must be his native tongue. I don’t recognise it. Just like Glenn to put me with someone who doesn’t speak English. No one to complain to. No one to listen.
I wake at dawn. The nurse sitting in the chair, staring at me. I start to cry. I just want to know what’s real. I just want something I can trust.
He speaks softly in what sounds like German spoken with a thick Russian accent but with each word on the verge of slurring, shrouded in radio static. I just want someone to tell me what’s real. He holds my hand.
I want Glenn. Where is he? I ask the nurse again but I can’t see anything. The snow is inside the room. Between us. He is still holding my hand. His body flickers in and out behind the blizzard of snow in the bedroom. He’s not wearing his uniform. He is crying. I can’t make out what he’s saying. The wind is too loud.
He holds all the answers but I know now I will never know them. Would I even believe him if he told me? Despite the snow separating us, covering us both, he is still holding my hand. I know he won’t let go. Is it Glenn?
I will never know.
The snow fills the room completely.