At 3 p.m., William punched his employee number into the time clock and leaned against the wall with a sigh. “Another four hour shift,” he thought. “It’s bad enough that all they think I’m capable of is ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes,’ but now they think I can’t stand a normal workday?”
Handing off his blue apron to his replacement, William nodded a goodbye, the familiar “Thank you for shopping at Walmart” exit greeting echoing in his head.
Stuffing his hands in his pockets and rummaging for his keys, William scanned the parking lot for his car. “I know I left itÃ¢Â?Â¦” his thoughts trailed. “Damn it, why can’t I seem to remember anything?”
Frustrated, William squeezed his keys until they left deep red marks in the soft skin of his palms. At the end of the parking lot, he spotted it: his new Cadillac, a parting gift from the company who had let him go after fifty-five years of hard work. “Hell of a present,” he thought. “I give them my whole life and they give me this piece of junk. “
Back at home, his wife was waiting with some unexpected visitors. “Pop!” yelled a high-pitched voice as a blur of pink and pigtails tumbled towards him. Meredith, his five-year-old granddaughter, hugged his knees, and looked up at him with a toothless grin.
“Whoa, whoa, Mer!” William laughed. “C’mon, where’s your mom?”
“Hi Dad, in here,” yelled Kathy, his youngest daughter, from the kitchen.
Plopping himself down at the table with the three favorite women in his life, William leaned his head in his hands.
“Long day, Dad?” asked Kathy, giving him a pat on the back.
“No, not at all. That seems to be the problem.”
“Well you know you don’t have to work. You saved enough to last you,” Kathy said.
“Yeh, but have you ever known me to go a day without working?” William asked.
“I know, I know. Still not getting any better?”
“No,” he said. “It’s like no one trusts me anymore. Like I can’t even take care of myself.”
“Oh, Dad. We trust you. Its just well, you knowÃ¢Â?Â¦”
William turned away, refusing to address the topic. He didn’t need to hear about his mistakes yet again. How he had forgotten to take off his shoes in the shower the other day. Or forgotten Meredith’s name on more than one occasion. How he had been let go from his job after he couldn’t remember the title of the project he was supposed to be working on, let alone the specifics during a presentation.
Meredith skipped into the room, blissfully unaware of the dark mood that had fallen on them. “What?” she chirped, “Did I do something wrong?”
“Of course not,” said William, giving her a push. “C’mon, lets go watch some cartoons.”
Sitting down on the couch with the antsy three year old on his lap, William flicked on the TV.
“47! Channel 47, Pop!” Meredith beamed. “I remembered!”
William obliged, settling on Channel 47 and some new cartoon that he had never seen before.
“Guess what else I know, huh? I know your phone number now too! Not even just my own!
“Oh yeh, betcha don’t,” William teased.
“Two-two-four, eight-six-three,” Meredith blurted out, stumbling over the last few digits.
“Five, nineÃ¢Â?Â¦” William encouraged, giving Meredith a nudge.
“Nuh-uh,” she said. “Pop, don’t try and kid me. Six-two-one-oh.”
Confused, William gave her a smile, then turned her to face the TV. “Was she right? Could he not even remember his own phone number? How long,” he thought. “How long until all this fades away? What if I don’t even know who she is?”
Moving Meredith to the couch, William got up silently and headed for his room. There, scanning the pictures on the walls, he put himself to his daily test. “John in Florida, Kathy at her wedding to Ryan, Diane on our anniversary,” he recited, marking what image was on each picture. “I can handle all that. What the hell is wrong with me today then?”
Slipping off his rubber-soled work shoes, William looked back at the picture of him and his wife. “What day,” he whispered. “What day is it? Did I miss it? Oh God, what is wrong with meÃ¢Â?Â¦” He sunk back in the bed, throwing an arm over his eyes.
Back in the kitchen, William and his family got ready for dinner. The usual careful conversation ensued: how long Kathy and Meredith would be staying, how Meredith was doing at school, what Diane had done with her day. “For once,” William thought, “everything seems normal.”
Over dinner, the family chatted about plans for the upcoming summer. “Well, we’re taking her to D-I-S-N-E-Y,” Kathy smiled, knowing the spelling was yet beyond Meredith’s abilities.
“Wow, you’re in for a surprise, kid,” William smiled, raising his eyebrows at his granddaughter.
“What! What!” Meredith begged.
“No way, big kid secrets,” he grinned, as Meredith slumped in her chair in a forced pout.
“What about you, Dad? Any trips planned?” Kathy asked, obviously avoiding the “getting-his-job-back” argument again.
“Well, no, but I was thinking about getting back into the woodworking I used to do. Maybe fix up this kitchen, make some new cabinets.”
“Really?” beamed Diane, “I think that would be great for you. Get you focusedÃ¢Â?Â¦”
She stopped. She had said too much.
“I don’t need any focus,” William snapped, pushing away his plate. “I could make all the furniture in this house once, and I can do it now. What are you all against me now, too?”
A lull fell over the table. The only sound was the scrape of silverware against the plates. Even Meredith stopped squirming, her face showing her fear at hearing her usually calm grandfather raise his voice.
William excused himself and headed out to the garage. Hours a day he escaped here, working on small projects. A clock, a nightstand; little projects, he knew, but they relaxed his mind a bit.
Sanding down his newest endeavor, a yo-yo for Meredith, William relaxed. It was something familiar, something he couldn’t mess up. “A saw and sandpaper is all it takes,” he thought. “If nothing else, I’ll always be able to do this.”
Reaching for his tools, William’s hand grasped empty space. “That’s funny,” he thought. “I left it right here.” Roaming the garage, William glanced around for his red toolbox. Not finding anything, he started taking things apart, first calmly, then with increasing panic. “I won’t let this get me, I know I left it right here,” William muttered, panting. Throwing a rake off the wall and tipping over the trashcans, he let out a yell. “I will NOT.”
Gripping the shovel from the rack, William turned to look again around the damage he had done to the previously tidy garage. With heavy foot, he trudged back to the toolbench and let out an exhausted sigh. The toolbox. On the shelf right above him. He let go of the shovel, letting it fall to the floor with a clang.
Picking up the yo-yo, he brushed his fingers across the smooth, sanded wood and slumped to the floor. “I’ve lost it,” he muttered, a tear sliding down his face onto the concrete floor of the garage. “Pathetic.”
The handle to the garage door clicked, and a tiny figure grunted to push open the heavy metal panel.
Wiping his face dry, William looked towards her with a weak smile. “Yes, Mer?”
“Pop? What’s wrong? Whys it so messy in here? Mommy gets mad when my rooms all messy.”
William mustered a laugh. Well at least she didn’t know. Well, at least not yet.
“What are you doing in here, Mer?” William asked, wondering how she had skipped out on her scheduled post-dinner bathtime.
“I heard loud noises, like you were popping balloons. And I like balloons, so I wanted to help.”
William had to laugh. Only a three year old could mistake his despair for her favorite trick.
“Are you sad?” she asked, slinking in under his heavy arm, her big blue eyes staring up at him.
“I guess you could say that,” William admitted.
“Why be sad, Pop?”
“Well, hun, because I can’t remember things sometimes, and it makes me sad.”
Meredith frowned, and her big blue eyes grew wide. “Well, I don’t remember things all the time, but Mommy says it’s okay. She says I’m learning.”
Giving her a squeeze, William sighed. “I hope she’s always like this,” he thought. “I hope she never grows up.”
“What’s that?” she asked, pointing to the toy in his hands.
“It was supposed to be a surprise for you, but you can have it now,” William answered.
“Is this my big surprise?” she beamed. “Will you show me how it works?”
William smiled. “Of course,” he said, giving her a pat on the head.
“Hey Pop,” Meredith whispered, holding the yo-yo in her lap.
“Don’t be sad. I’ll remember for you. I’m really good at it. I already know your phone number.”
William had to laugh. “Depending on a five year old,” he thought. “Who would have thought?”
“How bout we make a deal,” he said. “You never forget me and I’ll never forget you. No matter what.”
“Pop, don’t be silly. I remember you all the time! I remember you when I say my prayers at night, and when I go to the park we went to, and, just, all the time!”
“Well then let’s shake on it then!” Taking her little hand in his, he shook twice.
“Deal!” she chirped, puffing up her chest as if an important contract had been made.
“So what now, Pop?”
“I think it’s time I teach you how to use that yo-yo. So you can remember and teach me again later, you know.”
“Yeh!” Meredith shouted, and both of them stood, Meredith reaching up to be carried.
Shutting the garage door, William looked back at the mess and then at Meredith.
Smiling at her toothless smirk, he let the door click shut behind him. “Deal.”