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Friday, November 18, 2011

#FridayFlash: Wandering Mind

“Hello, Mr. Johnson,” the nurse chirped in her baby-talk voice. “Are we doing okay this morning?”

“Hi, Tammy,” I replied. “Whatever it is I’m doing, I seem to be doing it here at the moment.”

Her smile became less forced, her tone closer to — but not quite — adult-to-adult. “Oh, good. Looks like you’re having a good day, then! Do you know what year it is?”

“I’ve told you twenty-‘leven times, it’s twenty-‘leven.” The retro styling was supposed to help us Alzheimer’s patients by giving us comfortable surroundings, but it can confuse things. It didn’t help that they assumed we all liked Glenn Miller and that other big band crap — give me good old 50’s rock and roll.

Tammy laughed. “Good! Are you up to eating, then?”

“Yeah. Breakfast would be good. And some crosswords, maybe. I’d like to call the kids, if they’re around.” I paused. “How long was I gone?”

She gave me a sad look. “Three days. And you were pretty foggy the day before.”

So I’m lucid about a third of the time now. “I hope I didn’t cause trouble.”

“No. We know you weren’t yourself.” Tammy’s expression changed enough to tell me I’d been trouble. She brightened. “I’ll send your breakfast in. Anything else you need?”

A Viagra pill and you out of that uniform, I thought but did not say. Her job was hard enough. “Nope. Not unless you have a cure for this damned Alzheimer’s!”

She laughed. “If we find one, I’ll make sure you’re first in line!” She breezed out of my room, off to her next patient. God, she had a nice ass — broad and round. Not a conventional looker, but I had a few of those in my time back before I settled down. They were lousy in the sack. Hell, I might not even need a Viagra with Tammy. Never needed one with Martha, God rest her soul. I’ll see her again soon enough.

I breezed through the two easy-level crosswords, and did pretty good with the middle level. For however long it lasted, I was all the way back. The shrink’s intern came by with the usual battery of exam questions, then said, “Well, I’ve asked you my twenty questions. You have any for me?”

“Yeah. Where the hell does my mind go when it goes away? I’d like to follow the son of a bitch and drag it back here where it belongs.” I tapped my hairless skull.

He gave a nervous laugh. “That’s a question… I don’t know how to answer. Maybe that’s more metaphysical, or even spiritual, than psychological. Some medical researchers would say your mind just… shuts off.”

“But wouldn’t that kill the rest of me?”

“Not necessarily. Your conscious mind resides in the cerebral cortex, the uppermost layer of your brain. If that upper layer stops — or freezes up — the lower layers continue to do their functions. Your phrase, ‘mind goes away,’ is half-right: only your conscious mind goes away. The involuntary functions like heartbeat, respiration and digestion continue to do their work. Reflexes, too. If someone pokes your arm, you’ll move it.”

“Yeah. So what’s happening in here when I vacate the premises? I guess I wasn’t much fun to be around this last time.”

“Good question. Can you remember what you were thinking last time?”

“Kind of. I could feel it coming on, and I was furious about it. I hated what was happening to me. Still do.”

“Ah. So that anger came through — or stayed behind, rather — during that last episode. You were belligerent. The staff had to restrain you for two days.”

I rubbed my forehead. “I’m so sorry.”

“Blame the disorder, not yourself, okay?” The intern smiled. “Maybe next time you feel an episode coming on, try to calm yourself instead of letting the anger have its way. You might not be with us, but perhaps you can ‘program’ your limbic system to be less aggressive before you leave.”

“Worth a try.”

I woke up this morning in a fog. “Here we go again,” I said, but it took me a while to figure out what that meant. Worse luck, it was Tammy’s day off. The Chinese guy — Song, that’s his name, like music — stayed with me as I collected my fading wits and battled with an easy crossword.

I grew frustrated, angry, at my inability to concentrate. But I remembered what the intern said, and I focused on calming myself. Don’t be a jerk, I told myself. There was something else — something important — I needed to remember. I tried to think of what it was as I used the bathroom — one less diaper for the music guy to change — then laid down.

I hate when my mind goes away… aha. Where is it going? Can I follow it and bring it back to my brain? Why I can’t remember where I go when I’m gone?

Follow it. I reach out, take hold of my mind. You’re not going without me this time, I tell it. I feel a moment of clarity as I take hold. Together we go, into the unknown.


  1. very well written insight into the ineffable. Very human. Well done.

    marc nash

  2. That was a great piece; love how you turned the subject on its head (humour out of adversity).

  3. I also enjoyed his air of crotchety humor. I'm always in favor of humor into adversity. And for some reason, I had to read the nurse out loud in a New Jersey accent.

  4. If you ever do audio version of this story you must get John to do the nurse. Not the actual nurse, but the voice ;).

    Great story, and I hope really is able to follow his mind and bring it back kicking and screaming.

    It reminds me of Terry Pratchett and his battle with the disease.

  5. Funny! I wonder what he sees when he follows his mind? LOL

  6. You deal with a difficult subject with humour and honesty. I couldn't help but like him. Seeing the funny side with a dash of ironic common sense is the only way to deal with these things. I only hope I remember to if neccessary.

  7. Thanks, Marc!

    Hi Quinn, welcome to the free-range insane asylum! I ended this wishing I knew where he went.

    JohnW, it didn't occur to me that Tammy could be a Jersey Girl, but… it could be.

    Craig, I'm not sure what possessed me to write this, but maybe we can get John to read it for us!

    Sonia, I wish I knew!

    Flyingscribbler, you make a really good point. There's no history of it on either side of my family, so I'm hoping I'll not have to deal with it personally.

  8. I echo what the others have said. A lighter look at a devastating disease, a character we take too and care about for who he is, not just what's happening to him.

  9. A wonderful flash piece. I hope wherever his mind goes it is somewhere nice.

  10. Nice job of endearing us to your character, FAR. That's a sad disease, but the dose of humor was perfect.

  11. Chilling and good, and everything else it needs to be. A little humorous, and a little sad for anyone who understands the frustration of being helpless.

  12. [Bela Lugosi voice] Good evening!

    Alison, thanks. I like to focus on the people in my stories, and it seems I succeeded.

    Cherie, me too!

    Chuck, it's sad indeed. I gave Mrs. Fetched permission to shoot me if it happens to me.

    Raven, that's a good observation — there are lots of ways to be helpless, and it's frustrating when it happens.

  13. Thanks for sharing that, and even those of us who have relatives with that disease don't necessarily see all sides of it. So many manifestations. Thanks again.

  14. Got an uncomfortable feeling reading this, so bravo!

  15. Good job combining the humor and compassion. Some mysteries may never be solved.

  16. My grandmother had this disease and if I wind up with it, I hope I can face it with the same crotchety gallows humor. I also think it would be a great time to take up a heroin addiction.

  17. That's well-written, FAR, and a really interesting flash that asks an intriguing question. You handled this one really well. =)

  18. You really got inside the wandering head of this character. Taut and flawlessly executed story. I really like the idea of him following his mind.. could this lead to another story?

  19. Morning!

    Michael, I don't know what moved me to write this, but I'm glad it spoke to you.

    Thanks, WJ! Uncomfortable because of his trouble, or because he'd like to boink the nurse?

    Tim, if they find a treatment or cure, I'd be OK with not solving that particular mystery!

    LynnCee, I hope it never happens to you. But if you take up H, would you remember to shoot up?

    Thanks much, JohnX!

    Thanks, Tom. I don't know if it will lead to another story — depends on whether he comes back and tells me what happened!

  20. There's something quite sad about this piece but the level of determination is humbling. The dialogue really rings true, too.

  21. It's a very sad condition and I did at times deal with it when I worked with the elderly.

    I think your portrayed the character in a beautiful way, that showed the distress yet brought in the humour.

    Nicely written.

  22. Thanks, Icy. If I had to pick one thing that I've improved the most in my writing, I'd have to say dialogue.

    Helen, I always knew you were a saint! ;-)

  23. Deftly rendered story about a situation that robs so many. The balance of darkness and humour was spot on.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  24. Thanks, Adam. This story was kind of a gamble for me, I wasn't sure how it would be received but it seems to be doing quite well!

  25. Beautifully sad. Perfectly written.


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