ORDINARY WONDERS AND BLEAK MIRACLES
Waiting For Zachary
Al Bruno III
Ken Grady hated the drive to the Muldwych Assisted Living Facility. He hated the place itself even more. He hated the staff with their trained pleasantries, he hated the pre-fabricated buildings and the layout that made him feel like he was an unwanted guest in a second rate country club.
Most of all he hated the residents; so many of them had allowed age to turn them into the walking wounded. Some of them couldn’t even do that, they rolled to and fro in their wheelchairs and motorized carts. Ken was seventy-five years old but he looked ten years younger. Plenty of folks asked him his secret, was it genetics or clean living? Was it diet or prayer?
His only answer was that staying young was looking Father Time right in the eye and telling him to fuck off. That was something he did a lot these days.
The nurses heard him knock and buzzed him in to building four, the tallest building in the facility. It looked half like a prison and half like a hospital because that was just what it was.
After another change of empty pleasantries with the staff he made his way through the locked glass doors that served as checkpoints and entered room 814.
Jennifer was sitting in a chair by the window, the television was blaring nonsense but she didn’t seem to notice or care.
“How are you feeling today?” Ken asked as he took a seat next to her.
His wife didn’t look at him when he spoke, she just kept watching nothing. Her hands were clasped together and her fingers moved with mindless precision, a lingering memory of the rosary she had used to count on Sunday mornings.
On the TV some poorly dressed fool was winning cash and prizes. Ken sighed heavily.
Friends and family had told him this daily ritual was no longer necessary, that Jennifer would have wanted him to move on, but how could they know that? How could they know that when Alzheimer's had robbed her of the ability to speak?
Besides Ken couldn’t abandon her, not after almost forty years of marriage, not after all the laughter, love and the occasional spectacular argument.
Jennifer paused in her finger counting, then started again.
As they had grown older they had spoken frankly about deathbeds and do not resuscitate orders. Somehow what was happening now had never come up. Was that foolishness? Or hope? Ken supposed it was a bit of both.
Her illness had begun with forgotten names but had quickly progressed to lost hours and terrifying confusions. Ken had tried to care for her himself but as more and more of her memory had eroded away he had been left with no choice but to entrust her in the care of professionals.
The day he had left her at the Muldwych Assisted Living Facility had been a terrible one. Jennifer had been lucid and spiteful. She had cursed and spat and worst of all she had told him he had never been her first choice, that she should have waited for Zachary.
The name had haunted Ken. He had tried to dismiss it as ramblings but every night as he lay alone in his too-empty bed he turned it over and over in his mind.
Jennifer had a younger sister in Calgary and after some consideration he called her. It took some prying but eventually he learned everything. For decades it had been Ken and Jennifer against the world but before that there had been Zachary. Jennifer had been little more than a teenager then but she had been so very much in love. He was three years older and already on his way to making a life and a career. They would have been married after she graduated from high school but the draft had robbed them of that dream. He had been declared missing in action.
She had promised she would wait, she had been waiting for almost four years when Ken had met her and fallen in love. He had worked tirelessly to win her heart, but he had just thought she was playing hard to get. He had never suspected he was trying to get her to break that promise.
It had hurt to know there had been someone else, someone his wife had loved enough to spend a lifetime keeping a secret. Ken wondered how often she had allowed herself to think of her first love, if in the best moments of their marriage there had been a part of her that secretly mourned what might have been.
Ken didn’t think so because through the good times and bad he had always been able to make her smile.
He could still do it, even now.
“Hey...” he leaned forward in his seat and took her twitching hand in his, “...it’s Zachary.”
Slowly Jennifer’s eyes brightened and she broke into a grin.