Sometimes she did remember. Sometimes she didn´t. Only bits and pieces of their past life together returned to her memory every once in a while, but he was never sure if she´d even recognize him at all. Sometimes she smiled at him as if she knew who he was, but sometimes she just sat there and stared at him with big eyes, her mouth open, and an incredulous glance in her eyes when he told her that they had been married for fifty two years now and that their children had children. Occasionally, she nodded as if she knew exactly what he was talking about and sometimes she called for the nurse and gestured frantically at him and voiced her shock and concern about the lies he had told her.
The nurses knew that her memory had faded away and they felt for the poor old man that took it upon him to walk down the hallway every day just to sit at her bed and read to her; poems and short stories, long novels and newspaper articles. They knew that he often brought Oscar Wilde along, when she was in bad shape, because his plays and stories seemed to cheer her up.
But her mind was a fragile thing and it often slipped his attention that she wasn´t with him at all. Her old eyes stared out of the window and she would interrupt him every so often to tell him that she wished to be a bird. She wanted to fly away and follow the sun, and always feel the soft beams of the sinking sun on her face. She wished to spread her wings and let the wind take her away.
Some days, she didn´t speak at all and he feared he would never hear her lovely voice again. Sometimes, when she just sat there and stared out of the window, he took her hand into his and they spent their time together in complete silence. He caressed the back of her hand and felt the rough and papery skin against his own aged skin and it felt normal to him. He had touched her countless times and he still felt the soft sensation of the warmth of her skin against his.
Sometimes, she would turn around to him and ask her about their children. She often wanted to take to Jake and tell him to pay better attention in school, and he never told her that Jake was in his thirties now, married, with a third child on the way. The doctors had told him to play along with her broken memory, because it was a good thing that she remembered anything at all.
Inexplicably so, he often felt exhausted when he returned to his room at night. He was a patient man, but during the grey days, when she didn´t even recognize him at all, he got quite depressed and prayed to the Lord to please make her remember him. He didn´t so much want her to remember everything. He just wanted her to not scream and call for the nurse when he entered the room. He wanted her to see him and smile, the way she used to do.
Over the years, the grey periods lasted longer and longer and his patience faded, but still he walked the long way across the hallway to her room every single day. He felt his muscles getting tired, his breath coming in sharp gasps, and his heart race. He was old, he admitted to himself, and he shouldn´t do the long walk anymore, but he simply refused to use a wheelchair, because he feared that he would like the comfort too much. It would take too much energy to get out of the chair to sit on her bed and read to her and he feared that one day he might not be able to muster enough energy to stand up.
So he walked and he had to use the grip bar to steady himself. He pulled himself along the bar and he noticed that with every passing day he had to pull harder. His legs often refused to help him out and he had to make several stops on his way. After a short rest, he would continue. He knew that at the end of the hallway there was his wife waiting for him. She might not know that she was waiting, but he hoped she would know deep down in the subconscious.
This very Sunday, he woke with a sharp pain in his chest and he knew that Death was knocking at the door. So he got out of bed and he dressed and it took him very long, because he couldn´t lift his arms high enough to pull the sweater over his head. Frustrated, he dropped the sweater and it fell to the ground next to his bed. With only pants and a good shirt, he stepped out into the hallway and grabbed for the bar.
He forced his body to do his bidding and the pain in his chest grew stronger. He felt his hands shaking and sweat broke out on his forehead, but he continued on, unperturbed. His naked feet dragged across the linoleum floor. No one was up yet and the hallway was empty and he could smell the distinctive odor of the cleaning products and of hygienic hand sanitizers. It smelled like a hospital and he knew why others hated living here so much.
A piercing pain made him wince. He used both hands to steady himself and to regain his balance. He didn´t know how he managed to do it, but he continued walking and soon reached her room. The door stood ajar, but she was still in bed. Her eyes were open and she stared out of the window. Outside, the wind howled and raised fallen leaves and they spiraled through the air. For a moment, he watched the leaves dance outside.
In her bed, she turned around to him and watched him. He leaned against the frame of the door and held his hand to his chest.
“Come on in, Thomas”, she said. “Come on in and tell me about the day we met.”
Her soft voice made him walk over to her. Panting, he fell into the chair next to her bed and the pain in his chest grew further. It was a penetrative ache that now radiated through his whole body.
She watched him silently and then reached out to touch his hand. He met hers half-way and in mid-air and the pain ceased and he could breathe again.
“Tell me about the day we met”, she said once more, her voice a soft whisper that was almost inaudible in the noise the howling wind made outside her window.
So he started telling her how they had met a very long time ago during a stormy, cold winter and how he had fallen in love with her right then and there. She smiled at him and he read in her eyes that she remembered. He told her that he couldn´t sleep and couldn´t eat and all he ever wanted to do was to go and see her again. He told her that he loved her. She nodded as if she knew and he was grateful.
He closed his eyes for a moment and she stared to caress the back of his hand. He wanted to look at her one last time, but his eyelids where too heavy and he felt drowsy and his head sank against the backrest of the comfortable chair and the last thing he felt was the circular movement of her thumb on his rough and papery skin.