The man we call Dad is missing again. Mum was in the kitchen when she heard the front door shudder closed. “I must have forgotten to lock it when I came back from the supermarket.”
None of the neighbours have seen him. He’s not arrived at any home with the shy announcement: “Apparently I’m supposed to be here.”
I puzzle over these ‘apparentlys’. What clues does he draw from in his attempts to untangle his knotted life?
We visit every shop in town, one after another. Newsagents, charity shops, even the estate agencies. A bus rumbles past and I shoot Mum a glance, but she shakes her head. “I confiscated his pass.”
Hills rise like clouds behind the houses; their green expanse endless. He could be anywhere.
It’s beginning to rain.
There’s only one thing for it. We return home and I run to the backdoor. I pause to gather up my courage, then force my feet towards the garden shed.
You, the real one, the man I grew up with, live here. Since dementia set in, accessing you is increasingly difficult. Brambles and nettles climb past my waist. A wasps’ nest seethes its discontent. I knock on the door, heart jumping.
“You’ve gone again,” I say when you peer out. It flusters me to see you looking so much taller and stronger than your current self. “Can you help us find him?”
That slipped out. I never know what to call each of you. You’re no more similar than brothers, yet one is what was and one is what is.
With effort, you forge a path through the matted undergrowth without disturbing the wasps’ nest. We hurry into the town. Mum trails behind.
You know yourself better than anyone, but even you couldn’t have predicted the stranger you’ve become. I can see your own annoyance with yourself, exasperation biting your edges.
You lead us into the depths of a newsagent’s that once sold suits and Aran jumpers. And there he is, standing in a corner, looking bemused and anxious.
The relief that envelops me is so intense I lean my palms against a freezer cabinet. Then I’m beside him, embracing him, and he’s saying: “Hello. I know you, do I?”
I stand back as Mum takes his hands. She kisses his cheek roughly. “You silly man. You frightened me!”
He blinks, but smiles as she kisses him again, more gently.
Mum and I lead him outside. I can’t bring myself to let go of his arm.
People watch while we walk up the street. The pity in their eyes scratches at us as we guide my diminished father home.
You’re not walking beside us, however. I half turn and see you standing in the doorway of the shoe shop. Sunlight glimmers through your limbs, your face. Any moment now and you’ll have disappeared – sealed into the shed with your memories. I wonder whether I’ll be able to reach you again.
Judy Darley is a British fiction writer, poet and journalist whose work appears in magazines and anthologies and in her short story collection Remember Me To The Bees. She’s read her stories on BBC radio, in cafés, caves, an artist’s studio and a disused church. Judy blogs about art and other things at http://www.skylightrain.com, and tweets @JudyDarley.