Verna said it all began with pulsing purple lights. That's when her husband Irwin started forgetting things and ended up with Alzheimer’s; no one believed her.
It was strange to hear her talk about it in such a matter of fact way. She didn’t believe in anything she couldn’t touch or control, like her house. It was always so neat and tidy without as much as a speck of dust anywhere. The furniture looked as new as the day it was bought in the 1970s. With hand-carved wooden accents and riotous velveteen floral fabric in autumn shades of green, brown, gold and burnt orange, the sofa and club chair were likely every bit of forty years old and maybe more. And yet there was something in her eyes, a glint of fear mixed with pleading that was so out of character I almost believed her.
An air of sadness hung about her when Irwin died, as if some essential part of her died with him. Verna was a matter-of-fact kind of woman who was as precise in her gestures and speech as she was particular about her one-bedroom apartment. She continued to keep everything picture perfect even though I never saw her wash a dish or heard her vacuum. She wasted nothing, especially not words.
It all started one night when Verna began sleeping in the living room sitting upright on the sofa. She couldn’t breathe lying down; her heart was enlarged and often filled with fluid. Not even the thought of sleeping apart from Irwin for the first time in sixty years kept her by his side.
“That’s when it started. It was my fault.” Tears gathered in her red-rimmed eyes, her voice steady and no-nonsense. “I shouldn’t oughta left him alone.” The tears disappeared as her lips tightened, her fluttering hands clasped, white-knuckled in her lap. “A wife shouldn’t oughta leave her husband’s side. If I had just stayed in the bedroom, the lights wouldn’t have taken Irwin’s mind away. Those awful purple lights going off and on, regular as a beating heart.”
Verna tried to find a comfortable spot in the corner between the winged back and arm of the sofa, feet tucked beneath the flowered flannel robe. Dozing off and on,her congested heart struggled against its own boggy weight. Lights out and curtains drawn, the living room was dark and silent. Not even the sound of a rare car shushing by in the slushy street got through the thick, heavy drapes.
A pulse beat of purple light flashed on and off against her closed eyelids, faint at first and growing stronger, until it roused Verna from a fretful doze.
“Irwin,” she called without opening her eyes, “the light bulb needs changing. Please turn it out.” Irwin didn’t answer. “Irwin, did you fall in?” No answer. She opened her eyes, uncurled her feet and put them on the floor, leaning forward a little until the feeling returned in cold prickles and then hot pins and needles. Slipping cold feet into carpet slippers, she inched forward and slowly stood, swaying a little until her galloping heart slowed and the dizziness cleared. It was easy to navigate the small apartment in the darkness, but the strobing purple light made her so dizzy she had to feel her way inch by inch, eyes shut, along the wall to the bedroom doorway.
Lying as still and stiff as death, Irwin’s eyes were wide open, head bathed in purple. Unable to tell whether or not her husband breathed, she entered the room and dropped to the bed beside him, grabbing his shoulders and laying her ear against his chest. His heart, stronger and steadier than hers, thudded against his rib cage. She shook his shoulders, but couldn’t move him; he was stiff as a board, frozen in the glare of the purple beam. “Irwin, wake up. Irwin.” He didn’t move.
That is all. Disperse.