In this short story called Memory, for one man, a single memory is a matter of life and death.
Copyright (C) 2019 by Brian Covault. All rights reserved.
A deafening clap of thunder follows a brilliant flash of lightning by only a second as sheets of rain pour down on the Rolling Meadows nursing home in the small, quiet community 30 minutes outside of Indianapolis. It is mother nature’s last blast on this early October Saturday to usher in the colder, windy days of Fall.
Appropriately nestled among rolling hills, the one story, white building is typical of nursing homes with the main entrance in the center and long wings extending out to each side. A large, white sign with black lettering identifies the institution to visitors just as they enter the long drive leading to a parking area in front of the main entrance. A few cars are parked there. There is another streak of lightning and clash of thunder as a new car pulls in.
Inside the building, patients sit in wheelchairs along the hallway near the entrance, many alone and oblivious. A big, white companion dog roams the halls looking to be petted or scratched with no offers from anyone. The place has a strong antiseptic smell to it, evidence of constant cleaning to stay one step ahead of any bacterial infection that would spread like wildfire here.
A white, middle aged brunette with thin framed glasses and little makeup wearing blue scrubs sits behind a counter facing the main entrance. She has a pleasant look about her as she reviews papers checking off items here and there. She listens to a nearby radio the audio frequently punctuated by static from the constant lightning outside. A man’s excited voice announces the latest news over the radio.
“And now, the latest on the October surprise of the 2036 presidential campaign.”
The brunette sighs. The man’s voice continues as another brilliant lightning flash lights up the windows.
“President Dave Hampton issued a statement this morning saying there is no truth whatsoever to claims his father, the late Shaun Hampton, was a former US spy in the 1960’s turned by the Soviet Union to become a double agent.”
“Hampton went on to say his father served his country with distinction and these allegations are a slander against a man who is no longer alive to defend himself.”
President Hampton’s voice comes over the radio.
“My father died five years ago. Let him rest in peace!”
“Amen!” the brunette says too softly to be heard by anyone.
The reporter continues.
“We have just received word that President Hampton will be holding a press conference in two hours. We will bring you live coverage…”
The reporter continues as the main entrance door opens to more lightning and thunder and a middle aged man wearing an overcoat enters. He is holding an umbrella over his head in one hand and a newspaper in the other. The man quickly collapses the umbrella and places it on top of a nearby coat rack before closing the door behind him. He then removes his coat and hangs it on the rack. He wears a flannel shirt and blue jeans. He is a white man with a middle aged belly. His salt and pepper hair can be more easily seen by the brunette as he approaches the counter. The brunette turns down the volume on the radio as the man begins to speak with a Midwest accent.
“Ah, you’re following the big story too.”
“Hard to avoid. It’s everywhere. They’ll stop at nothing to sling mud!” the brunette says in disgust.
The new visitor agrees.
“Yeah, I was listening on the way here. You must be Barbara’s replacement.”
“She retired last week.” the brunette confirms over another clap of thunder.
“Good for her! She put in a lot of years here.” the man says as he extends his hand toward the brunette.
“I’m here to see Scott Miller.” the man says. “I’m his grandson, Dan.”
The brunette says “Pleased to meet you. My name is Susan. Your grandfather doesn’t get any other visitors.”
“Grandfather in law, actually.” Dan says. “My wife, Maggie, is his granddaughter by blood. Aside from us and our kids, there is no family left. Maggie’s parents died in a car crash 20 years ago.”
Susan says “I’m so sorry.” There is more lightning and thunder outside.
“Thanks.” Dan says. “Once he no longer recognized anyone, it became too much for Maggie. Corey is 10. Jessica is 12. Too young to understand. No point really.”
Dan looks down. Susan pats his arm gently.
“It’s OK.” Susan says. “We get a lot of that here. Scott is 100. Pretty impressive.”
Dan looks up accompanied by more of mother nature’s fireworks.
“Yes, it is!” Dan says. “He’s had a good, long life. Thank you. Well, I suppose I’d better go see him. Still room 122?”
Susan says “Yes, 122.”
“Thanks again!” Dan says.
Dan looks at the radio.
Dan says “Hey, when I get back, you can fill me in on the score.”
They both laugh halfheartedly. Dan walks away.
Scott’s room is the typical nursing home accommodation. A TV sits on top of a table in the middle of one side of the room. A hospital bed sits in the middle of the other side of the room. A recliner is right of the bed. A dresser is on the other side of the bed. Framed pictures sit on top of the dresser featuring Scott’s late wife and Dan’s family. Between the recliner and bed is a beside table with water and a remote for the TV.
A frail, wrinkled old man with white hair and pale skin lays on the hospital bed on his back facing straight up. An IV stand sits directly left of the hospital bed. An IV line runs from a bottle hanging on the stand down to the old man’s left arm.
On the right side of the room is a large window with shades pulled down. An occasional flash of lightning can be seen through the shades as thunder is heard. Heavy rain can be heard pounding down on the window. A door opens on the left side of the room. Dan enters and walks to Scott’s bedside.
Dan says, “Hi, Granddad!”
There is no reaction at all from Scott, no sign of any recognition.
“I’ve come to see how you are getting along and visit for a while.” Dan continues hopefully.
Again, no reaction. No sign of recognition.
Dan soldiers on. “The kids are doing well in school. Basketball will be starting soon. Corey loves basketball, remember?”
Again, no reaction from Scott.
“Jessica has started violin lessons.” Dan says. “That is a difficult instrument to master. Maggie and I think she’s up to it.”
The complete lack of reaction or recognition continues from Scott. Dan sighs.
“Corey’s birthday is coming up soon.” Dan tries once more.
Again, no reaction. It is obvious this visit is going to be like all of the others.
Thirty minutes later, Dan is sitting in the recliner reading the newspaper to Scott. He looks up from the paper and over at Scott every now and then searching for any sign of recognition, activity, anything. Nothing.
An hour later, Dan is pacing up and down the left side of the bed as he talks to Scott. Dan looks at Scott. Nothing. Sighing, he walks around the bed to the bedside table, picks up the remote and turns on the TV.
15 minutes later, Dan is sitting in the recliner. The TV is still on but now muted. Dan is talking to Scott trying once again to get some reaction out of him.
Dan says, “Remember that time we went fishing and I was trying so hard to reel in the big one, I fell out of the boat?”
But, Scott continues to be motionless and silent. Dan sighs heavily.
“Running out of things to say here, Granddad.”
Something on the TV catches Dan’s eye. He turns to look at it.
“Oh, breaking news. Might as well catch up on the score.” Dan says.
Dan uses the remote to un-mute the TV just as a news anchor at a desk begins to speak.
“We now go live to President Hampton at the White House press room”
The feed switches to a view of President Hampton standing behind a podium in the White House press room.
Hampton says, “Good afternoon. I would like to begin by making a statement. You have all heard the latest word from the CIA. In response to the ridiculous allegations that my late father was a US spy turned double agent by the former Soviet Union, a thorough review of records has been conducted. No evidence whatsoever was found that this fake news you people put out has any merit at all!”
A reporter yells, “Is it possible the investigation’s conclusions are wrong?”
Hampton replies with exasperation, “Again, you heard the announcement. The investigation was very thorough. It involved many agents, countless hours and a large counterintelligence operation!”
Another reporter shouts, “What about these recent reports of another spy who discovered Mr. Hampton was a double agent?”
The President is angry now as he says, “Did any of you people listen to what I just said? My father was not a double agent! There was no other spy!”
Another reporter speaks up, “There has been more than one source on this, Mr. President. There was this other agent. Sources say his code name was Willow.”
Hampton responds, “I have no idea what you’re talking about! It’s fake news! They’re trying to discredit my campaign…”
But Dan is no longer listening. He is staring intently at Scott. Scott slowly, weakly raises his right hand and points a finger in the direction of the TV.
“Willow!” Scott says very weakly.
Stunned, Dan continues to stare as Scott’s hand falls back to the bed. Dan looks back at the TV and then looks back at Scott. Dan turns off the TV, stands, steps up to the side of the bed and leans in close to Scott’s mouth.
“Granddad, was that you?” Dan asked excitedly.
“Willow!” Scott says, still weak but stronger than before.
Scott slowly raises his left hand and points a finger at the picture of his late wife on the dresser for barely a second before his hand falls back to the bed as if he has used up all of his remaining strength.
Dan moves to the dresser and picks up the picture. He turns it in his hand, examining it. He removes the picture from the picture frame, revealing a brown envelope. He reaches into the envelope and pulls out a single, folded piece of paper. He unfolds it and takes a few moments to read it. He looks at Scott, his expression hard.
When Dan speaks again, the Midwest twang is gone replaced by a heavy New York accent. His voice is filled with cockiness and annoyance.
“Well, what do you know? A signed confession from Shaun Hampton. This was your ticket out of the Soviet Union, your insurance policy. And you’ve kept it hidden all these years.”
Dan folds the piece of paper and puts it in his pocket. He takes a cell phone from another pocket and dials a number. After a moment, he speaks into the phone with pride and confidence.
“I have the evidence, Mr. President.”
A few moments pass as Dan listens to the phone. Dan looks down at Scott with regret before speaking into the phone again.
“Yes, Mr. President.”
Dan looks down at Scott again as he puts the phone back in his pocket. He takes a syringe from another pocket and walks to the IV stand. He inserts the needle into a port on the IV line and slowly pushes the plunger. A brown liquid begins to flow down the IV line toward Scott’s arm.
“Sorry about this, Pops. You know how it is. Can’t leave any loose ends.”
Dan puts the syringe back in his pocket. He looks on stoically as Scott begins to move his left hand slowly and weakly toward the IV stand. But, it only moves a few inches before falling back to the bed.
“Don’t worry, old man.” Dan says. “There won’t be any pain. It will be just like falling asleep only you’ll never wake up.”
Scott’s breathing begins to slow.
Dan sighs as he says, “Wish you’d coughed up sooner, old timer. I’m not surprised, though. Dan and Maggie wouldn’t talk either. Couldn’t even beat it out of them. Maybe you never told them. But, if you’d spilled the beans sooner with me, they might still be alive and I would have saved myself months of work on the grandson routine.”
Scott’s breathing slows more.
The imposter looks at the picture of Dan’s family on the dresser then looks back down at Scott and speaks again as he sighs with true regret in his voice. “All that grief for nothing.”
Scott is barely breathing now.
The imposter speaks one last time. “I hope you find peace on the other side you ol’ spook. There sure isn’t much of that here.”
The imposter walks to the recliner, picks up his paper, and walks to the door. He takes one look back at Scott. He glances once more toward the window noting the rain has stopped. Then, he turns, opens the door and leaves the room as Scott takes his very last breath before passing away.
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Thank you, Susan!