Time has split into two. There is the Before and now there is the After. We drive home in silence, in the first moments of what feels like the After, after we hear the news.
I stare valiantly at the mark on the dashboard. The mark where, attempting to paint not just my fingernails but my toes, I had missed and left bright red swipes on the plastic. Geoff had gone over a bump, driving down to the country, to our friend’s house on the beach. That had been ten years ago. Our honeymoon, and my third book. I had nearly gone after it with the nail polish remover and he stopped me: “Don’t you know you’ll melt it?”
Perhaps slightly unnoticeable dents in the plastic would be better than glaring red swipes when it comes to missing someone. In the Before I had thought to myself that perhaps he wanted pieces of me, pieces of him, everywhere; our mark on everything, because it was ours. And I liked it. I wanted to go around painting little red swipes and slashes on everything that was ours. Instead I restrained myself and wrote a minor character into my third book that signed and scrawled her name in the oddest of places on the oddest of things.
Now I think that even if I had used the acetone, he would have noticed, and he would have remembered. It’s why we like each other enough to want to be married. We notice things, we collect them, and I put them into our children – my books.
He didn’t mind me stealing from his collection, like, like a – there is a bird, I have forgotten, it was a rhyme. Not a blackbird. Geoff will know. Now I will have to use more of his collection because mine is getting locked away, the shelves emptied behind a door I have no key to. So Geoff will have to keep telling me what I had in my collection, about birds and things.
Someone – I can’t remember his name, Geoff will know – told us: brain tumour. Memory loss. I sometimes bump into things, I don’t remember what Geoff has told me mere moments after he speaks. Dr. Sands, that’s it. I like him – he makes me laugh. He said we should go so we did. And I got scanned. And was told I had what my mother had.
I wanted to say “I hope so, given that I’m a woman too!” but it didn’t seem the right time and it wasn’t a really good joke either. I knew because Geoff’s mouth was downturned, his brow ridge really furrowed. I use these now because I don’t remember, things learnt, collected a long time ago. It’s only the most recent stuff I forget. So I have that. I seem to have lost the humour somewhere. Humerus is a bone that my writing program won’t recognise as a word, humour is the word I want.
When we pull up and stop, he won’t let me get out, motions to me to stay inside. I do. This is now common for us, me doing what he says. It seems to scare him that he must now guide me. I think I remember that I might have been different before. Maybe I don’t remember that because I never thought about it.
It gets harder to hold on to thoughts too. I have a feeling of being slow, much slower than before. Was I fast before? I think I was louder too. Now I feel so slow I worry my words come out all wrong.
Geoff is back with two sports bags. Are we going to the hospital? Do I have to go? Geoff wouldn’t take me unless I really had to. When he gets in, he still doesn’t say anything. And I don’t ask. But when we turn onto the highway, I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding and his left hand comes off the wheel to squeeze mine briefly. Geoff wouldn’t take me to the hospital.
We’re going to the beach house. Our honeymoon, my third book. Jasmine in the front for his own Yasmin. So I can write my – how many have I written now? If I count I will miss the last few – Geoff will know. My umpteenth book. My book with a value of n – I can’t remember humour but I can remember maths. That’s odd, right?
It’s dark as we drive down the highway, take the turn, drive down the road, drive over all those bumps. But Geoff wants to go there, wants to take me there, to where I was happiest with him. I want to tell him that I would be happy with him anywhere. I don’t think I could give him the memory to back it up, but this, I do remember.
I won’t be writing my book though. How can you write a book when you can’t remember the ideas that came to you the night before? It’s been months. I write notes to myself each day but my diaries make more sense to me than my notes do. My notes are merely the things I manage to retrieve from my collection before the smash and grab – from everywhere in my life. Dis – disparate! They are disparate, unconnected, I don’t know how to connect them into a whole any more to write stories. So n – a lovely title for a book – won’t be written.
I’d never known whether I would regret, on my deathbed, the time I spent writing or the time I spent with others, with Geoff, with friends. And now I am dying. It is huge, this thing slowly sneaking through my brain. It is advanced. Like an army invading. It’s already across the border and over into my backyard.
I look fine, I know, but I fall, I am clumsy, I feel weak and it will get worse. It will hurt. It is tiring to hold a pen but I type too clumsily now. And now I can’t connect things to write. It takes eight seconds to remember something – long term – but I am not fast enough for this army, this invasion.
So no n. I have enough children, enough books. It is time for Geoff and I now, our bizarre stint as empty nesters. Perhaps Geoff will start and finish n. I will leave my diaries for his collection. They are short phrases, words. I can’t write as well as I think now. Too slow, too tired.
They will taper down to just one word phrases. “Love. You. Geoff. Always. Silly.” I hope those are the last words he will read. I hope he will be ok.
We pull into the drive. The streetlight is on and in amongst the shadows, light falls on the jasmine flowers near the white fence and gate. I find myself next to it. He’s already on the porch, finding the switch for the light and looking for the spare key. We are honeymooners again now so it’s one thing I can remember. “The blue one,” I call out. He looks slightly startled at me then finds the one out of the many prickly cacti potted plants scattered on the porch. My friend’s little thorny security team.
“Yasmin?” I turn around. He’s opened the door. I nod slightly and pick some jasmine. Jasmine for me and tuck one flower behind my ear. I walk over to him, slowly climb the steps up to him, clutching at the banister for balance. I put my arms around his neck and he smiles at me, a smile half-torn as he lifts me up.
He carried me over this threshold ten years ago because we were like two children then, playing at being together, not caring about anything else, too happy. He carries me now because I am weak but I bury my face in his neck. This is our memory.
I have jasmine in my hair and I tuck a flower behind his ear and I see the curve of his mouth, this close in the dark.
I want him to know that this is not the After though it feels like it. That the After is yet to come. Because he is carrying me and I am stealing from his collection all the time. Because I have jasmine in my hair and he looks silly with it behind his ear. Because we have an old car with nail polish on the dashboard that we should have sold years ago. Because we have cacti security. Because this is the strongest memory I have and this is where we both want to be.
I want him to know that this is the Before. Because we are together.