I Don’t Know What I’m Looking For (flash fiction)

Content warning: this story is about a man with early onset dementia.

I’VE BEEN looking for something, and now I can’t remember what it is—much less where I left it. I don’t know why I can’t remember, but I’ve been on the hunt for hours, in a state of mortal terror, as though my life depends on locating this substantively, as well as distally, elusive thing. I carry on now with the hope that I’ll recognize it when I see it—whatever it might be; keys, perhaps, but probably not—or that maybe I’ll come to bear the delusion that some other object around the house, something incidental, is what I sought all along, and will contrive a convincing story about my reasons for needing the thing and what process led me to seek it out to begin with.

Long have I known that my memory is failing me, that not all I see is real, and that increasingly I suffer fits of overwhelming paranoia and anxiety that seem to leave my very consciousness cocooned in a semi-translucent membrane out of which it takes hours to muster the courage to want to escape, and hours more to actually break through into a reasonable cognitive . . . cognitive what? Condition, I suppose. Is that clever enough? Clever thinking is paramount, if I’m ever to find what I’m after.
It’s early onset dementia. I know that. At least I know that at the moment. I’ve been told. More times than I remember. At least I imagine. Not that I imagine remembering but that I imagine having forgotten. Sometimes I forget for days. Sometimes the lady comes out of the closet and it’s all I can do to hide from her and keep my heart beating at the same time. When I see her, my heart wants to spasm and weaken and fail. I can feel it. I have to breathe deeply and remind myself to not die. Eventually she slinks back into the closet. I don’t like her wide, alarmed eyes. I don’t like her frozen face. Her stillness. I’ve never seen her move. She just suddenly appears right in front of the closet door, and no matter where I am in the room when I glance at her, she’s facing me directly, staring into my eyes. I leave the room and hide in my bed and close my eyes and wait. After a while, I decide that I’ve waited long enough and I get up. Sometimes I’m not right.

I’m in the bathroom. I’m looking at myself in the mirror. The shower curtain disturbs me. I feel like I forgot that I just saw it move a little. Maybe the air kicked on, or maybe it’s another hallucination. The cabinet doors below the sink are open. I must have looked there already, so I close them, and then I turn to face the shower curtain. Now it looks like there’s not somebody standing behind it.

More and more I’m reaching the conclusion that the bathroom is no place to be at all. I might not go in there anymore. I don’t favor the pantry either. The door is cracked open and the light is off. I know a trap when I see one. Whatever haunts me knows well my mortal flesh, and now guards the food day and night. The back wall of it adjoins with the back wall of the closet. The lady might have made a hole to crawl through.

It’s taken me days—weeks?—to figure out why she guards the closet along with the pantry. It took her presence in the pantry for me to realize she was guarding anything. Before, I assumed she was simply trying to scare me. But no, my shoes are in the closet, along with my coat. Inside the coat pocket are my wallet and my keys—of course I’m not looking for my keys, I knew it. I need my keys, but I know where they are—at least I remember often enough. Now if only I can remember that I remember that I’m not looking for my keys. I won’t forget the lady’s purpose, that’s for sure. She doesn’t want me to leave, and she doesn’t want me to eat. She wants me to stay right here and let her watch me wither away.

This will not do. She doesn’t even live here. I must find what I’m looking for. Whatever it is—ah, perhaps it is a key of sorts. The key to driving her away—to getting her out of my pantry and my closet and my house. If this was not my original purpose, it certainly ought to be. If I starve, I’ll find nothing.

I like being in my bedroom. The lady never comes in here. I keep the lights on everywhere in the house except the bedroom because then I can hide in the dark and watch the door for shadows. I crouch behind the bed and peek over the mattress.

Wait.

There it is. It’s right there. It’s touching my knee.

My flashlight. My big bright flashlight, with a beam so powerful it will blind an intruder. This is what I’ve been looking for all along. I thought the lady a dark presence, and thought perhaps my flashlight might cut through her like a sword, or dissolve her, or at least make her shut her eyes.

It’s so bright it casts a glow over the entire room, though the concentrated light forms a mere two-foot circle on the ceiling. I twist the end to widen the beam and not a square inch of the room eludes inspection. Just because the lady hasn’t come to my bedroom doesn’t mean she won’t, and it doesn’t mean she hasn’t without my witness. My memory is failing me, after all. It has been for some time. It began suddenly as I recall. There seem to have been people here many days past. There were words in the air like unexpected and faith and loss. I remember casserole—hashbrown, I think. If the lady will leave, I think I have potatoes in the pantry, if they haven’t sprouted or rotted, and I can make my own casserole. Surely it’s been days since I’ve eaten.

I’ll get her now. Of that I’m certain. I’m halfway around the bed. I will come through the door and surprise her with a concentrated beam, and she’ll have no time to retreat into the closet.

Oh what a clever lady.

She heard me thinking my plans.
She can’t fool me. I see her. Right now. She’s been in my bedroom all this time. That’s her, on the dresser, standing next to me in a matte-finish photograph, and though I shine my light at her she will not go away.

I don’t want her to go away.

Her presence isn’t dark any longer. Her smile is so sweet. She looks like the happiest lady in the world.

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