Reasons to speak dwindled for Martin Cavendish, who was already taciturn when his wife’s early-onset dementia left him widowed and childless. Neighbors moved away. Friends were in other time zones and communicated by e-mail. Flawed as they were, online customer service and tech support were still better than holding for “the next available representative” on a voice call. A pandemic lockdown in 2020 closed the restaurants he sometimes visited.
Martin did not pray at all, let alone out loud. In one respect, however, he was like some old-time Calvinists. Those Calvinists scrutinized their lives in this world for clues about what they were predestined to enjoy or suffer in the next. Martin watched for early symptoms of dementia. Exaggerated or frequent versions of common minor things could be early symptoms. Martin was uneasy when he forgot why he entered a room, when he drove past a lawn being mowed and did not smell the fresh-cut grass, and when he spoke to nobody. Without any explicit vow of silence, Martin suppressed the occasional urge to talk to himself. Days without speaking stretched to weeks and then months.
An angry cobra slithered inside Martin’s left arm, pausing often to bite. A python squeezed his heart. Martin chewed aspirin tablets while starting his old flip phone. Kept more from habit than from felt need, the bare-bones combination of device and plan was good for voice calls. No texting. No GPS.
When the 911 dispatcher asked about the call’s purpose, the sounds that came from Martin’s mouth were somewhere between coughs and grunts. Martin’s voice had atrophied.
The dispatcher was unfazed.
“You seem to have a medical emergency. I will send help as soon as I locate you. Are you at home now?”
“Please press 1 if you are at home or 2 if you are not at home.”
Martin’s hands trembled as he jabbed at a button, missed it, and dropped the phone. Whatever the dispatcher may have said about triangulation as a backup option was unheard, as Martin felt the cobra bite again while the python squeezed harder.
A new thought came to Martin before he blacked out. He smiled.
Dementia won’t be what gets me.
This post has just displayed Version #3 of the story. Earlier versions had no images and needed none, but I like images. I see no conflict between an effort to write vividly and an effort to illustrate appropriately.
Version #1 was posted in the first Writers’ Co-op Show Case. After various improvements over Version #1 brought the word count down by 5%, Version #2 was posted in Edge of Humanity Magazine with a nice blurb from the editor but without the font change needed in the final paragraph.
In all 3 versions, there is a transition from what unfolds over months (in the first 2 paragraphs) to what happens in a few frantic minutes (in the last 9 paragraphs). To mark that transition in the text-only early versions, I inserted a row of tilde characters [~] as a short pseudoparagraph. I’ve seen both [~] and [*] used for pseudoparagraphs. I prefer [~] because it has fewer other uses and looks better anyway.
Now that the last 9 paragraphs could flow around an image, I deleted the pseudoparagraph in Version #3. The only other change to the text from Version #2 was fixing the final paragraph’s font.
The image used here has an ironic backstory that I posted in response to a challenge with the prompt word [irony]:
– above post (on phone) or beside it (on desktop). –