Kenai Peninsula Writers’ Contest adult/open fiction first place winner

“Lost Years” by Tara Caribou

A woman holds my hand. I’ve never seen her before but she’s showing me a photograph of a handsome young couple standing in front of a blue Cadillac and now she’s started crying. She keeps asking if I remember him, in the faded photograph, but I’ve never seen him or her before. She insists she’s my daughter Deborah but my daughter is just a little girl. She lost her front teeth recently and I put them in an envelope to remember her fleeting childhood. This woman must be my age, maybe older. She tells me things she says are about my life that sometimes feel vaguely familiar yet surely I know my own life. She hugs me and it feels awkward to hug a stranger but she seems to need it. I wave to her when she says she’ll be back next Tuesday like always. But I never do see her again, poor woman.

Stanley is the most handsome man I’ve ever known and I will remember his gentle smile and twinkling grey eyes and quiet voice even when I’m an old woman. It’s been sixteen years of wedded bliss and when he walks into the room, my whole world still seems to brighten. I’ve been waiting all day for him to come home and I’m wondering what’s keeping him. He always comes home at exactly 6:17pm and it’s half past eight. I’m getting a little worried. I hope he’s okay.

When I open my eyes, a man with silvery-white hair and wire-rimmed spectacles is sitting across from me. I startle because I don’t know where exactly I am. I must have fallen asleep watching Deborah practice her ballet lesson yet I awoke here in this room, with a shabby afghan tucked across my thighs and thin white curtains covering the window. The gentleman smiles when he sees I’m awake and quietly says my name. When I ask how he knows my name, and where am I and where’s my daughter, he begins to silently cry. I don’t understand. His voice seems familiar but I know I’ve never seen him before. I wish Stanley was here to explain this all to me.

A little girl climbs on my lap and says she loves me. I love you too, my little Debbie, I automatically respond, but she giggles and says, I’m not Debbie! I’m Sarah! But she looks just like Deborah when she was six, but my little girl just graduated high school the other day and I am so proud of her. I’ve planned a celebration party this weekend for her. She’ll love her graduation gift we got for her. But now that I’m looking at this little girl, I realize she isn’t my Debbie after all because my little girl has straight brown hair and this little one has a dimple and dark brown curls. Where’s your mommy? I ask her and she giggles again pointing across the room. A woman stands there, her hand across her mouth, tears coating her cheeks. Oh Mama, she says, but I’ve never seen either of them before.

I’m quite upset right now. Deborah was supposed to meet me for lunch today and she is two hours late and not even a phone call. I’m worried too because when I dial her number, the young man who answers says he doesn’t know a Deborah and that he had this number for five years. I verify the number with him but he insists he is not joking. I don’t understand why the number isn’t working or why my daughter hasn’t called me. I’m upset but also worried. Then a nurse just walks into my room and I’m not sick at all so I don’t understand why I need a nurse or how she knows my name. She asks me what the last thing I remember is and that’s a strange question to ask someone but I tell her I am waiting for Deborah. She says Deborah visits on Tuesdays and it’s Saturday today.

There’s a nice, older gentleman visiting me today. When I ask him his name, he begins crying. He lifts my palm to his lips and kisses me just like Stanley does and asks me, don’t you remember me even a little? I gently pull my hand away, a little disturbed that a perfect stranger has kissed me and how he knew to kiss me just as tenderly as my husband does. I tell him that I love my husband very much and I don’t mind the visit but that’s all it is. I ask him his name again and he smiles, but seems sad as he says, Stanley. I laugh and say, that is my husband’s name too, what a coincidence. I ask him if he knows my Stanley and if he can tell me when he will come get me and take me home. For some reason, this old man before me begins to cry even harder. I pat the hand that rests on his knee, trying to comfort him. I look toward the door and wonder where I am.

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