Andi’s exit was inevitable—as inevitable as her death. Before she left, walked out sometime during the day while I was at work, she had had a hard time finding her way from the bedroom to the kitchen. Or maybe she’d begin to walk down the hall and forget where she was going.
I had to follow her everywhere, just in case she was asleep. Andi was never asleep. Andi was always asleep.
I follow Andi everywhere. Miss Adventure. Misadventure. We’ve been dating a month. I suggest a movie. She says a hike in the Appalachians.
We get turned around and instead of going back down the same trail we came in on, we trek into the next valley. Andi wants to keep going, just to see.
It starts to rain, not a drenching rain, but one of those Smoky Mountain rains where the air is thick with water vapor. So cold. I am scared, but Andi just takes a survey of our surroundings, collects some fallen branches, and goes to work building a lean-to. A lush tent of evergreens.
Petite Andi. I am able to zip us both into my coat.
The next morning, Andi leads us right back to my car. She’s left the door open.
Just in case, I left the door open. At first I had just left it unlocked but I considered that maybe if faced with a closed door, she might turn back around. I knew it was ridiculous. She wasn’t a dog. Still, the doctor said–
I get her a necklace for her birthday.
“It looks like a dog tag,” she says. She tells me it’s sweet but that she likes to buy her own jewelry. “I’m picky,” she says and kisses me on the nose. The necklace goes right into her jewelry box. So does the bracelet I buy after I see her eying it at an antique store. I don’t say anything.
The neighborhood is quiet—as quiet as Brooklyn can get—but I knew I was taking a risk by leaving the door open. I never locked the door back home. I asked my neighbors to keep an eye out, but most of them work days like me. A fourth-floor walk-up— to rob the place you’d have to know the door was open and no one was home.
I came home from work, and I just knew something was missing, like you know when someone is looking at you. That feeling. I went right to her jewelry box, or rather the place where her jewelry box had been. On her dresser a silver triangle, a memento from a race.
I’m waiting at the finish line, holding the thermal blanket I am supposed to wrap around her when she finishes. The New York City Marathon–her first. She’s an Athlete to End Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know that’s not what her mother suffered from. She wants to run one marathon a year every year of her thirties.
I see her. She’s hobbling but determined. An old man, maybe even in his eighties, passes her. I hold up my sign: “Run, Andi, Run.” She crosses the line, and I’m there, and I hold her, and she’s breathing hard. “I want to live here,” she says.
I tacked a note to the door: “Superintendent working in apartment. Do not close door.” Anyone seeing the note would think twice before entering. They wouldn’t rob a place with the super around. And the door would still be open for Andi. I didn’t notice the books were gone. Andi was the reader. I was vacuuming, and when I bumped the bookshelf, no books fell.
We’re sitting up in bed in our apartment that’s half the size and twice the rent of our place in Louisville.
I have a magazine, Time or Newsweek—some article about the last days of the Bush White House. She’s reading a play.
“Let’s go out,” Andi says.
I tell her we can’t afford it.
“Then read to me.”
“I’m tired,” I say.
Andi never seems tired.
Sundays were poster days. The print shop first, and then around Brooklyn tacking over flyers for bands and yoga studios and reiki healing. “Have you seen me?” they say. “My name is Andi. I suffer from dementia. If you see me, please call my husband Michael at 859-361-0871.”
“Did you change your phone number?” I ask her.
“We’re New Yorkers now,” she says. “We should have New York numbers. Errol says—”
Our new neighbor. Errol. Mr. Off Broadway.
I changed the sign on the door a few times: “Back in five minutes” became “Across the hall” became “DO NOT ENTER” became “PLEASE Do Not Enter” became “My wife suffers from dementia. She has wandered off. I have to keep the door open in case she returns. Please do not enter my apartment. I beg you.” Within a week, I was eating take-out. Can’t cook without pans, can’t eat without dishes and silverware.
I spilled duck sauce on Andi’s ratty, reclaimed chair.
I get up late on Sundays, and when I shuffle into the living room, she’s curled up in what she calls her dumpster chair reading a play by someone named Fugard.
“Good book?” I ask.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she says. “Errol brought bagels.”
She is wearing a new necklace.
The deli around the corner was crowded, and someone had tacked over one of my Andi flyers. I watched as one of my neighbors tore the offending poster down.
“Poor Andi,” she said, sitting down opposite me. “I’m so sorry.”
“She’ll come home,” I said.
My neighbor took my hand. I couldn’t remember her name.
Andi’s not home. It’s one a.m.. Sunday morning. I’m eating cold noodles and ice cream. She has gone out with friends, and I don’t have her new number programmed into my phone. Errol says she’s a New Yorker now. I walk across the hall to Errol’s apartment. I can smell her perfume before he opens the door.
“Haven’t seen her,” says Errol.
I thought the stereo would go first, but it took two weeks before it went missing. And all the records. I went to the police: “People are robbing my apartment.”
“Add more locks,” the lady cop suggested. “Find your wife yet?” she asked.
I told her I thought that was her job.
“I’ll take that as a no,” she said. “Metal door frame; look into it.”
She’s not in love with me anymore. She loves me but she’s not in love with me. It’s not me, it’s her. New York has changed her, opened her up. I’m still in Kentucky, she says.
“I’m right here,” I tell her. I suggest counseling. I don’t mention Errol.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“It’s nothing,” she says and turns.
Her shoulder blades protrude. She’s having trouble holding her head up. She pulls a blanket from the closet.
I ask her what she’s doing.
“I can’t sleep in that bed anymore,” she says.
She can’t sleep anymore.
The bedding had been stolen but not the mattress and box springs. I asked my neighbors if they had seen anything, people coming and going from the building. Nothing. No one sneaking out with a bag of linens. No one with a box of records. No one with books, picture frames, a painting that Errol had given us on our anniversary.
“It’s just beautiful,” Andi tells Errol, whose anniversary gift is the only one we receive, even from each other.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Oh, Michael, what a question.” Andi is embarrassed.
Errol explains. “It’s two lovers,” he says of the paint smears.
Andi hangs it on the wall opposite our bed that isn’t really our bed anymore since she started sleeping on the sofa.
“I like the way it moves,” she says. “Like they’re dancing.”
I think she is using her imagination. She isn’t.
After a month—after coming home to an apartment furnished with a chair and a naked queen-sized bed—I closed the door on my way out to work. It’s not that I wanted to protect what remained in that lonely apartment; I just knew that it didn’t matter anymore. I had stopped imagining her return.
The police told me that it was more than likely that Andi was dead. “We see it with Alzheimer’s,” said one of the detectives I kept in touch with. “They fall into the river or walk into the wrong neighborhood. What does she have?”
“Just forty, you say?”
“It’s so rare,” the neurologist tells Andi with a childlike glee. He says Andi will eventually need a full-time caregiver. He looks at me.
I don’t tell him that Andi only lives with me because she can’t afford to move out. I want to ask him if the disease can make someone fall out of love.
Fatal. Fate. Destined. Doomed.
Andi tells me she doesn’t want to waste any of the life she has left living a lie. She’s in love with Errol.
I had to pass Errol’s apartment every day, twice a day at least. Each time I saluted that door with my middle finger, even after Errol had moved out.
My finger was still pointing skyward when I saw that my door was open. I had been shutting it, locking it even, but there it was wide open.
Andi’s chair was gone. My toothbrush and shampoo were gone. The bed remained.
Andi tells me she’s moving in with Errol, that I should move back to Kentucky.
Errol has other plans–London. One year. He leaves a note: “A-, opportunity knocks. See you when I return. XOXO. E-”
The movers tell me everything’s going in storage.
“I don’t know what’s real,” Andi says, her sunken eyes looking bruised. Even the “college weight” clothes she kept are too large.
I got a call from a guy who runs the bodega at the end of the block. Serge or Sergei told me he had seen Andi in his shop.
“And you’re sure it’s her,” I asked. He would have known. Andi bought her not-so-secret cigarettes from him.
“I think so,” he said. “Or maybe her mother.”
The woman had paid cash for groceries. She had not bought cigarettes.
“She left one of her bags sitting on the sidewalk,” he said.
Two cans of fruit cocktail.
She picks out the cherries but still only drinks the juice.
Andi is aging quickly. Her hair is graying, her fingers like claws gripping the can. She’s in a state of continuous sleepwalking, her droopy-eyed somnambulations broken by mere minutes of sleep. She stares at Errol’s painting, tugging on her necklace.
“Where does the music come from?” she asks. She sounds drunk.
“There is no music,” I tell her.
“Then what are they dancing to?”
Months. That’s all I have left with her.
If she had been killed, hit by a car or shot or something, I could have grieved and moved on. If she had left me for Errol, I probably would have moved out and moved on. Not immediately but eventually.
After coming home to an empty apartment with my duffle bag and Chinese take-out for weeks, I said goodbye to Andi. I ordered new furniture, new dishes, new everything from Ikea. Andi’s credit card. Andi hated Ikea.
Andi is sitting in her chair, digging her fingernails into the stuffing billowing from the torn arms. Her feet are propped on a stack of magazines and catalogues. The Ikea catalogue is on top: “Living Small in New York.”
One of her eyes is closed.
I ask her if she is having a stroke.
“I’m half sleeping,” she murmurs. “I dreamed I was alive.”
“You are alive,” I tell her.
“Do I love you?” she asks and switches eyes.
When I was very young, I came face to face with a raccoon. I had been taking out the garbage, and there it was perched on an overturned bin. That face, that surprised and proudly guilty face, that was Andi’s face when I ran into her in the hall.
She was fumbling in her purse with her claw-like, maladroit hand, this haggard woman with streaks of gray and an odor of urine. I knew it was Andi before I knew it was Andi.
She looked at me quizzically, then she looked at Errol’s door and back to me. As if directed to do so, she dropped her purse, staggered to me, and flung her arms around my neck.
The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I emerge from the stairwell to face our open door at the end of the hall. I slam my fist into Errol’s door. A noise inside. Probably a realtor. Andi is gone.
“Errol,” she said, still gripping me tightly. Her breath was hot and pungent.
She pulled away and focused on the door. She had to concentrate to get the key into the lock, and she seemed so proud of her success. I half expected Errol himself to be standing in the kitchen sipping tea and making dinner. There was no Errol though. My sofa, my bookshelf, my stereo and records, my photos, but no Errol.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
I told her I had been looking for her. For months.
“I’ve been home, silly,” she said, her lips and tongue vaguely moving. She folded herself into her chair and picked up a script from an end table my mother had given me. She squinted at the pages and then thrust the book in my direction. “Read to me, Errol.”
It slipped from her hand.
This isn’t the first time she’s wandered off. I try to keep her in the apartment, but she says it feels like the walls are closing in. “I know it can’t eat me, but what if it can?”
I can’t chain the door from the outside. I can’t quit my job. I can’t hire a full-time nurse.
I don’t need to though because she’s gone. In a day or two when she returns, dirty and exhausted and shaking uncontrollably, we can go back to the neurologist.
I made tea in Errol’s kitchen. When I returned to his living room, Andi was tapping her feet and staring at a wedding photo she had stolen from our apartment. “You look different,” she said. I made her repeat herself three times so I could understand her slurred speech.
I sat down on the floor in front of her, my emaciated former queen on her tattered throne. She was moving her mouth again as if to speak.
“It’s unlikely she’ll return,” the doctor tells me. “If she’s hallucinating already, she’s nearing the end.”
I want to hit him for being so callous.
“If and when she’s lucid, she may seek out familiar places,” he says. “Can you leave your door open?”
Michael Mau’s short fiction has appeared in Fifth Wednesday, Mount Hope, Firewords Quarterly, Subtopian, Ferocious Quarterly, and other places. “An Open Letter to America From a Public School Teacher,” originally published in McSweeney’s, received national attention when it was picked up by several news outlets. His story “Little Bird” was selected by Lily Hoang as the winner of the 2014 Black Warrior Review Fiction Contest. “Best Launderette,” chosen by Pam Houston for Fifth Wednesday, was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He received his MFA from the Bluegrass Writers Studio in central Kentucky where he writes and teaches.