a brief encounter by Richard N. Bentley
He’d come to Northern Michigan, and the lake gulls were shrieking at him. He’d been on vacation only two days, but he sat around the cabin, springing up now and then to go to the window and back. It was too chilly to go out onto the beach. The sky looked like rumpled tinfoil and the wind was strong and cold. Lake Superior came rolling up to the beach with thundering splashes.
He would go to the door, then return and slump by the fire. I also heard him last night, walking around upstairs in the night, mumbling swear words in the darkness.
This morning he fidgeted around the cabin for an hour, not eating anything.
“Demon,” he said. “No, that’s not it.”
Lucy, my sister, had wrapped a blanket around herself. She shivered and looked out the window. “Demeanor,” our father said. He laughed quickly and without humor. “No, that’s not the word.”
“Don’t worry about it, Dad,” I said. “The word isn’t important.”
Lucy said, “Dad, I can tell you the word.”
“No, no,” our father said. He held up his hand. “I’ve almost got it.”
“Demeanor,” he said. He shook his head.
We first noticed it last year when we drove up here. We stopped at a gas station. He put his wallet on the roof of the car while he filled the tank. Later, he said, “It was the credit card.” The words on the gas pump flustered him—remove card rapidly.
We drove off with the wallet still on the roof and didn’t discover the loss until we arrived here three hours later.
“Debilitate,” he says. “Dyslexia.”
“Dad, cut it out,” Lucy says, “you’re making us crazy.”
“Crazy,” he says.
The waves sweep along the shore.
“Dementia!” he says suddenly. “That’s it! Dementia. That’s the word the doctor used. Comes just before Alzheimer’s. Remember? Do you remember?”
“Dad,” I say, “don’t worry. The doctor said it could be a long way off. It doesn’t happen right away.”
“A long way off,” he says.
Our father straightens himself before the window, watching the waves.
He says, “Please keep helping me to remember. Help me to keep remembering, the word.”