Dementia

Enid could hear Alfred upstairs now, opening and closing drawers. He became agitated whenever they were going to see their children. Seeing their children was the only thing he seemed to care about anymore.

In the streaklessly clean windows of the dining room there was chaos. The berserk wind, the negating shadows. Enid had looked everywhere for the letter from the Axon Corporation, and she couldn’t find it.

Alfred was standing in the master bedroom wondering why the drawers of his dresser were open, who had opened them, whether he had opened them himself. He couldn’t help blaming Enid for his confusion. For witnessing it into existence. For existing, herself, as a person who could have opened these drawers.

“Al? What are you doing?”

He turned to the doorway where she’d appeared. He began a sentence: “I am — ” but when he was taken by surprise, every sentence became an adventure in the woods; as soon as he could no longer see the light of the clearing from which he’d entered, he would realize that the crumbs he’d dropped for bearings had been eaten by birds, silent deft darting things which he couldn’t quite see in the darkness but which were so numerous and swarming in their hunger that it seemed as if they were the darkness, as if the darkness weren’t uniform, weren’t an absence of light but a teeming and corpuscular thing, and indeed when as a studious teenager he’d encountered the word “crepuscular” in McKay’s Treasury of English Verse, the corpuscles of biology had bled into his understanding of the word, so that for his entire adult life he’d seen in twilight a corpuscularity, as of the graininess of the high-speed film necessary for photography under conditions of low ambient light, as of a kind of sinister decay; and hence the panic of a man betrayed deep in the woods whose darkness was the darkness of starlings blotting out the sunset or black ants storming a dead opossum, a darkness that didn’t just exist but actively consumed the bearings that he’d sensibly established for himself, lest he be lost; but in the instant of realizing he was lost, time became marvelously slow and he discovered hitherto unguessed eternities in the space between one word and the next, or rather he became trapped in that space between words and could only stand and watch as time sped on without him, the thoughtless boyish part of him crashing on out of sight blindly through the woods while he, trapped, the grownup Al, watched in oddly impersonal suspense to see if the panic-stricken little boy might, despite no longer knowing where he was or at what point he’d entered the woods of this sentence, still manage to blunder into the clearing where Enid was waiting for him, unaware of any woods — “packing my suitcase,” he heard himself say. This sounded right. Verb, possessive, noun. Here was a suitcase in front of him, an important confirmation. He’d betrayed nothing.

But Enid had spoken again. The audiologist had said that he was mildly impaired. He frowned at her, not following.

“It’s Thursday,” she said, louder. “We’re not leaving until Saturday.”

“Saturday!” he echoed.

She berated him then, and for a while the crepuscular birds retreated, but outside the wind had blown the sun out, and it was getting very cold.

— Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

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