Friday, August 29, 2014

Memory's Keeper

By Bettyann Moore

Libby read the same paragraph three times before she realized that George’s snoring was interfering with her concentration. She knew, though, that trying to slip out of bed and move into the living room would be impossible. He was a notoriously light sleeper. He could sleep anywhere, it was true, but at the smallest sound, he’d jolt awake, have a devil of a time falling back to sleep and be crabby all day. It wasn’t worth it.

He was drooling again. A long string of saliva hung from the corner of his mouth and pooled on the pillow. Libby sighed, quietly. George had ruined numerous pillows with his drooling until she doubled up on the pillow protectors, and added two old pillowcases beneath the good one on top. It added to her wash load – she bleached them like crazy, but they were a lot easier to clean than a pillow.

Libby lowered her book – a romance – to her chest. George barely tolerated her choice of reading materials. One time, he’d read a few pages of one of her SensuousLove paperbacks, snorted and threw it across the room.

“Jesus, Lib,” he’d said, “that crap isn’t even candy for the brain, it’s more like Sweet ‘n’ Low for the brain.” He laughed at his little simile. Since then, Libby kept her stash of books hidden and read only biographies when he was awake. George approved of biographies, and history, anything historic was okay by him … well, except for historical romances.

In truth, Libby herself used to scoff at any kind of romance novel, until she turned 50, that is. It was like her brain couldn’t handle anything deeper, more pithy. It didn’t help that George had turned into his father: autocratic, unromantic and sometimes, downright mean. It was all about escape for Libby.

She closed the book quietly, reached down and slid it beneath the bed with all the others. She pressed the silent remote that would douse the bedside lamp, curled up on her side, away from the snoring, drooling George, and tried to sleep. Her thoughts kept turning to Memory’s Keeper, the book she’d slid under the bed. The heroine’s love interest, Lars, reminded her so much of Jake, her One True Love from high school. He was romantic, sensual, kind, loving, adventurous … the list was endless. As she’d done for the last ten years, Libby fell asleep fantasizing What If

It wasn’t unusual for Libby to wake up disoriented, but unless she was sick, she never woke up late. The smell of coffee added to her confusion. George never made coffee. She wasn’t sure if he even knew where the coffee pot was. If he had to go searching and make it himself … oh, he’d be crabby for sure. Libby groggily reached for her robe at the end of the bed. All she found, though, was a short, silky robe, not her heavy brown fleece. Is George playing some weird game? She wondered. She didn’t have time to guess; George was waiting. She pulled on the slippery thing, which felt marvelous against her skin, and headed to the bathroom.

Only it wasn’t there. There were just two doors in the bedroom. The bathroom door on the left and the door to the hallway on the right. Libby stood there for several long seconds, her head swiveling back and forth, back and forth like she was at a tennis match. The doors had been switched.

“Pull yourself together, Libby,” she said aloud. “You’re just a little more confused than usual is all.”
Adding to the confusion was the fact that the bathroom was totally different. An elegant single faucet gleamed over a vessel sink. Where was that leaky, lime-encrusted double tap that George kept promising to fix? And what was this? Two toilets? No, one was odd-looking … it was a bidet! Libby had never actually seen a bidet, but she’d heard of them. She shook her head like a dog shaking off water, but the bidet remained. Nevertheless, she had to go, badly, so she ignored the sink and the strange porcelain fixture and eased herself onto the toilet.

Immediately, she stood up again. The seat was warm! It was like there was a little heater in it. She sat down again. It felt soothing, but it sure made her have to go even more. When she reached for the toilet paper and it wasn’t in the same place, Libby just sighed. Then her nose twitched. Was that bacon she smelled? Unless it came in a microwavable package, George never cooked anything. Ever. Libby was truly alarmed now. She hurriedly washed her hands and headed for the stairs.

Only there weren’t any. The hallway led to a vast living room, which opened into a dining area flanked by a marble-topped island, followed by the kitchen. Libby’s mind registered that while the layout of the house was completely different, there were still recognizable personal items. Her great-aunt’s Tiffany lamp, her most precious treasure, graced the living room, but it sat atop a table she’d never laid eyes on. The painting that she’d bought from a starving artist while in college was hanging up, but it hung over a fireplace she knew she didn’t have. If this was a prank it was a darn elaborate one.

The clatter of pans drew her attention. Ah, at least there was her husband, who had his back to her as he took something from the stove. He was whistling. George didn’t whistle. He thought it gauche.

Libby stood uncertainly next to the dining room table, which had been set beautifully with delicate china and fresh-cut flowers artfully arranged in a crystal vase. Whoever really lived here, Libby thought, had wonderful taste and an eye for the sensual.

“Darling! There you are! I was just coming in to wake you.”

The voice was familiar, but it wasn’t George’s. The man carrying a silver carafe to the table most definitely wasn’t George. Libby’s heart lurched in her chest. It was Jake. Not the 18-year-old Jake she remembered, but Jake nevertheless – grown up, handsome, fit and smiling that sexy half-smile she remembered so well. He was smiling at her.

“Sit, sit,” he said, setting down the carafe. “Breakfast is all ready.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and gave her a big kiss on the cheek. Frozen to the spot, Libby didn’t react one way or the other to the kiss. Jake pulled out her chair for her (another thing George would never do), then poured her a cup of hot black coffee. Libby sank gratefully into the chair and reached for the coffee; maybe it would help clear her head.

Jake hustled back to the kitchen and returned with a clear glass bowl of colorful melon balls and a perfectly arranged plate of sunny-side up eggs, bacon and toast. He set it down before her with a flourish. There was just one plate.

Libby cleared her throat. “Uh, aren’t you eating?” she asked. She was amazed at her calm. What she wanted to ask is “What the hell is going on here?”

“No, silly,” Jake said, removing his chef’s apron. He was wearing a light green silk shirt, a Jerry Garcia patterned tie and beautifully pressed black slacks. And suspenders. Libby loved men in suspenders. “I have that meeting with Bob Kinder and the judge, remember?” he said. No, of course she didn’t. “After today our dream of a charity for the homeless will be realized. HomePlace will finally be born!”

Jake always had a soft heart. George’s idea of charity was to drag a quarter out of his pocket and drop it into the red kettle at Christmas. Once.

“How wonderful for you, Jake,” Libby managed.

“How wonderful for us!” he said, leaning down to hug her once again. “You laid all the groundwork and held all those fundraisers … I can’t wait for the celebration on Saturday and my girl can finally get the acknowledgment she deserves!”

“Saturday?” Libby said. “Uh, this is going to sound crazy, but what’s today?”

“It’s Tuesday, my love,” Jake said, pulling on his suit coat. “Don’t forget the rose delivery to Rosie’s,” he added.

“Roses. Rosie’s …?” Libby didn’t know any Rosie, well, except Rosie Hansen from high school, her former best friend and, as it happens, the woman Jake had taken up with after her. It certainly couldn’t be that Rosie. She hadn’t thought of her in years.

Jake sighed, but with a smile on his face. He pulled a thick leather book from the top of the island and set it near her left hand.

“Looks like you’ll need your bible today, old girl,” he said affectionately. He kissed the top of her head and went to the door. “I have to run, but I’ll be back for lunch as usual,” he said. Then he winked, or at least Libby thought he did.

What did that mean? She wondered. What does any of it mean? Absently, Libby picked at the meal before her while she thumbed through the book. It was part journal, part calendar, part scheduler. It was chock full of reminders, hand-drawn maps, snippets of conversations, recipes … all written in Libby’s own hand. How could that be? She found a reference for Tuesday. TUESDAY, it declared in all caps, underlined. Ten dozen roses to Rosie’s … all colors … Johnson wedding … by 10 am.!

Ten dozen roses? Where was Libby supposed to get ten dozen roses? And by 10 am.? Who gets married on a Tuesday anyway? Where and what was Rosie’s? She flipped through the book some more … ah, there it was. She’d drawn a little map of the place, which was, apparently, a flower shop. It was on the corner of Elm and Smithfield … Elm and Smithfield … Elm and Smithfield … Libby couldn’t remember any street named Smithfield. Was it even in town? Libby’s heart seemed to fall into her stomach. Was she even in town? She could be anywhere. She looked around her. Hell, she was anywhere.

She pushed away her half-finished plate, clutched the book to her chest and went to the large bay window. Her heart sank again. She recognized nothing. There didn’t seem to be any houses nearby, just fields and trees. Peaking out from the back corner of the house, though, Libby saw some sort of building. A neighbor? She decided to go see for herself. Maybe they could help her.

Libby took a quick shower, then hesitated in front of a strange dresser. Would her clothes be in there? And, if so, would she recognize them? She pulled open the top drawer. She didn’t recognize any of the underthings, but they were the right size anyway. Unlike her utilitarian cotton bras and underwear, though, they were all made of silky fabric in an array of colors, even black and red. Libby knew she was blushing when she pulled them on, but they sure felt good. In the closet she found hanger upon hanger of slinky, form-fitting, low-cut dresses, with shoes to match. “Slutty,” George would decree. Libby went back to the dresser and found a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. They were more her style.

She went out the same door that Jake had left from, proud of herself for making sure it wouldn’t automatically lock behind her. If she had keys to anything, she sure didn’t know where they would be. Maybe she’d find a clue to that in her little black book.

The door led to the garage; a motion-detection light snapped on as she entered. A sweet black Jeep sat next to a vacant space, presumably where Jake’s vehicle had been parked. Libby searched for the door opener, found it, then pressed ‘open.” She gasped. She couldn’t see the end of the driveway; it was that long. It was lined with ancient willow trees, interspersed with lilac bushes. It was gorgeous. More to shovel, prune and keep up, George would grump.

Following a field stone walkway around the house, Libby found the building she’d seen out the window. It was a greenhouse and a huge one at that. Over the door was a quaint, handmade sign that read: Libby’s Lair.

“Oh my!” she exclaimed. She pushed open the door and was immediately enveloped by warm, moist air and the heady smell of hundreds upon hundreds of rose bushes in full bloom. It took her back to her college days when she had worked summers at the Green’s Greenhouse, the best summers of her life. Working there had prompted her to change her major from chemistry to botany, but it was her dream to open her own greenhouse where she would create new and exotic species.

Then she met George, who was allergic to almost all plants.

Libby walked down the hothouse’s wide aisles, drinking in the smells and colors. A huge clock at the end of the building read 8 o’clock and she remembered she was supposed to deliver roses by 10. A pull-cart, loaded with crates filled with large, cone-shaped holders looked as if it was ready to be filled. Libby found elbow-length rubber gloves, a pair of shears and thorn snips. It was like she’d never left the Greens’. She worked happily, choosing only the best blooms. Before long, she had the 10 dozen roses she needed, then wondered, now what?

The cart wasn’t heavy or difficult to pull, so Libby pulled it around the house and to the garage. She peered into the back of the Jeep, which looked as if it had transported flowers before; its cargo space was strewn with dry leaves and petals. She pulled open the hatch and loaded the crates. Then she went in search of keys. She wished she had Jake’s phone number, then realized that she probably did.

Sure enough, there it was in the front of the black book. There was an office number and a cell number. When she finally located a phone, near the coffee pot on the counter, she dialed the cell number, hoping she wouldn’t interrupt something. George refused to take any calls from her while he was working.

“Hi Sweetie,” Jake said by way of greeting. “I was just thinking about you.”

Libby’s stomach did a little flip-flop. “Hi, Jake, um, I seem to have misplaced my keys. Have you seen them?”

“Well, if they’re not in the key box by the door, there’s always the spare set in the blue vase,” Jake said.

Libby saw a rustic square wooden box, decorated with roses mounted next to the door. She pulled on its little knob and found all the keys she could possibly want.

“They were in the box all along,” she told Jake sheepishly.

He chuckled. “I’m glad you called,” he said, “I just had a text from Jacob Jr.; he and Alisha can make it on Saturday after all. Isn’t that great?”

Libby froze. Jacob Junior? They had a son? She and George were childless. This was the biggest shock so far and the most incredible.

“Honey,” Jake said, “are you there?”

“Sorry, Jake,” Libby managed, “the phone slipped off my ear. That’s great news! It’ll be wonderful to see him and, uh, Alisha.”

“And Jacob the Third, of course,” Jake said.

A grandson? She had a grandson? Libby’s heart swelled.

“Of course!” she cried. “Saturday can’t come soon enough.”

“Agreed,” Jake said. “Look, I have to go, but I’ll see you for lunch. You heading out to Rosie’s?”

“Yes, yes, I just loaded the Jeep and I’m on my way out the door.” Libby was proud of how normal she sounded, even if she had no clue where she was or where she was going.

“You might want to use the GPS,” Jake said, as if reading her mind. “There’s a ton of construction and detours that you’ll want to avoid. Frankville just keeps on growing.”

Libby beamed. Jake had just given her two vital bits of information. One: there was a GPS. And, two: They lived in the town they both grew up in.

“Good idea, JJ,” she said. The ‘JJ’ just popped out; it was what she’d always called him when they were dating. Jacob John, JJ for short.

When she hung up the phone, Libby felt more confident than she had all morning. True, she felt she was living in the middle of a Twilight Zone episode, but there was Jake. And flowers. A son and a grandson. It was the life she always dreamed of living. The thought paralyzed her for a second.

“I hope I never wake up,” she said aloud.

The trip to the flower shop was relatively easy, though Libby couldn’t help gawking at all the changes her old home town had gone through. When she pulled up in front of Rosie’s she remembered the building well; it used to be the Night Owl, the high school hang-out. She’d consumed many vanilla shakes and chili dogs there. Whoever this Rosie was, she’d done a nice job of renovating the old place. 

“Libby, yay!” a woman’s voice called out as Libby opened the Jeep’s hatch. “You’re just in time.”

The woman reached for a crate and Libby realized that this was, indeed, her ex-best friend Rose Hansen. Were they friends again?

“You never let me down,” Rosie said, hefting a crate. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“What are friends for?” Libby asked, taking a chance.

Rosie set down the crate and gave Libby a hug, the kind of hug only friends can give. It felt good to hug back.

“Let’s get these in the cooler and then have a cup of coffee,” Rosie said. “I just made a fresh pot of that Kona blend you like so much.”

Like its owner, the shop was eclectic, warm and gorgeous. Libby tried not to ogle; presumably she’d been there many times. While Rosie fussed with the coffee, Libby sat at a cafe table. Two cats took turns winding around her legs. Rosie always loved cats.

“So,” Rosie said, bringing a tray to the table, “Saturday’s the big day, huh?”

“Right.” With nothing more to say about the party since she’d only heard about it that morning, Libby said the only thing she could think of. “Looks like Jacob and Alisha will be there, after all.”

“Wonderful!” Rosie said. “And that incredible grandson … oh, I’m so envious.”

Libby didn’t dare say something stupid like, ‘your turn will come’. For all she knew Rosie wasn’t married or was gay. Interacting wasn’t easy. Maybe, she thought, she should just tell her what was going on. A best friend would understand, wouldn’t they?

“Seriously, though,” Rosie went on. “I don’t think I ever told you how crazy jealous I am about your life! A job – hell, a calling – that you adore, a kid who thinks the world of you, that brilliant grandson, and then there’s Jake. Forty years married and he still comes home for a little ‘afternoon delight’.”

Libby blushed. So that’s what Jake’s wink meant.

“But,” Libby said, “what if it’s all not real?” Rosie cocked her head. “I mean, what if it’s all a dream and I’ll wake up and all of this is gone? Poof!”

Just then the bell over the door tinkled.

“Crap,” Rosie whispered. “Time to get back to work and I do have to arrange those amazing roses of yours.” She stood up and patted Libby’s hand. “Don’t worry, kid, it’s all real enough. You better scoot. That man of yours will be home soon.” She gave Libby a wink and a kiss and went to help her customer.

Back at home – and that’s how she thought of it already – Libby waited with nervous anticipation for Jake’s arrival. Should she have lunch ready? What does he like to eat? Or should she wait in bed in a peignoir? Nude?

“Oh, my, this is all so new to me!” Libby cried. She and George had mutually given up sex; they didn’t talk about it, it just happened. Frankly, he’d never been that interested in it anyway.

Libby sat on the edge of the bed, fretting. Maybe casual was best. Rosie said they’d been doing this for 40 years, so casual was probably the answer. Just for a lark, she dropped to her knees and looked beneath the bed. Sure enough, some things don’t change: she still kept a stash of books there. Strange, though, that Memory’s Keeper was one of them. She stacked two pillows and lay down to have a good read. Now, where was she …?

The voices seemed to come from far away. She recognized one, she thought. Jake? George? The other sounded like a young man.

“It’s not uncommon,” the other voice said, “though I know that doesn’t help much to hear.”

“No, no it doesn’t,” said Jake/George. “I assume it’s only going to get worse.”

“Worse for you, for certain, but maybe in some small way, it’s actually better for her.”

“Better? How could that be?”

“Think of it as a coping mechanism the brain has set up. Early onset Alzheimer’s can be much more devastating to the patient than it is to someone older. They’re relatively young, in good health, then suddenly it’s as if everything good has been taken away.”

Poor dear, whoever they are, Libby thought. What a horrible thing to deal with. Her mind drifted. It was near impossible to read. She lowered the book to her chest and waited.

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