By Marc Littman.
Uncle Eddie fished to catch my name but caught only frustration on his mind’s hook.
“If only he could latch onto some memory, he’d find peace.” My Aunt Ida lovingly washed her husband’s face with her bony fingers but couldn’t wipe away his bewildered expression. “I imagine he’s running blindly in his head, opening doors to empty rooms, not a pleasant thought,” she winced.
“At least Uncle Eddie looks good, better than I last saw him ten years ago,” I offered. “He’s still the captain.”
I surveyed their small assisted-living apartment stuffed with mementos of a robust life: Uncle Eddie steering his racing yacht across Puget Sound, his burly body keeping it on an even keel, his insurance salesman of the year awards, Eskimo walrus carvings, African drums, a Tibetan prayer wheel and other treasures from their global treks, trays of meticulously polished and labeled rocks, and family photos galore. Seventy-five years of a man’s special moments fading into oblivion.
“I’m sorry to depress you, Eric,” Aunt Ida mustered a wan smile and hugged me. I felt her slight palsy. “Getting old sucks, but at least we still have each other.”
I wish I could give them more. How sad to rack up a lifetime of memories they couldn’t both regale each other with now that their bodies could roam no more. Through the prism of my rampant imagination, I imagined invoking magic powers to vanquish Uncle Eddie’s Alzheimer’s if only for his birthday party tomorrow, my gift to my favorite captain.
Soon I took my leave to meander over to the Seattle waterfront and gird myself for the next day’s patriarchal pandemonium…
A light mist cloaked Mount Rainier and soaked my bottom as I cast my thoughts on the roiling waves by the waterfront. I imagined Uncle Eddie in sunnier days during my boyhood beckoning me to take the wheel of his boat or wrapping his pudgy hands around mine as we fished for Sockeye salmon, trout and cod. And he’d laugh hoarsely when I inevitably came up empty.
“That’s what the Pike’s for,” the Captain tousled my hair, and we’d head over to the historic rambling Pike Place Market and fetch the day’s fresh catch, Aunt Ida none the wiser.
Today I lingered by Rachel, the market’s bronze pig mascot, and impassively watched the vendors at one of the stalls toss a trout for wrapping, a stunt that always delights the tourists. Then I rubbed Rachel’s snout for good luck, released my mind and let my feet set their own course. They took me to a Mystic Rock Shop nearby, a rock hound’s mecca my uncle would have reveled in exploring.
“You’re looking for a miracle.” The sloe-eyed young woman gingerly setting rare blue and green agates in a glass display case divined my thoughts.
“Actually, a seventy-fifth birthday gift for my uncle. He was a big rock collector.”
“Is, I guess. He’s starting to lose his marbles, no pun intended.”
The merchant laughed exposing small catlike teeth. “And you’re hoping one of Isis’ rocks will magically line up his marbles again so he can get back into the game of life? I wish they could. Does he have any memory left?”
I cast a furtive glance at the Wiccan books and accoutrements such as vials of colored oil, white sage and a ceremonial dagger.
“He knows who my aunt is, some of his grown children, the ones who still visit. Doesn’t speak much anymore, but I think he tries to grasp what people are saying, make a connection…”
Isis collected a calico cat lazing on the window sill amidst the jagged rock specimens and plucked a pointed piece of silver feldspar crystal flecked with black spots and held it up for inspection.
“Larvikite, Norwegian moonstone, good for healing the brain. All stones are imbued with healing and other qualities. You can tap into them as long as it’s for a higher good…”
I flinched, recalling that only the guilt ladled out by my aging aunt and a free airline ticket had goaded me back home.
“You’re not so bad,” Isis winked at me. “This will make a nice gift. Your uncle will like it. I know.”
The mystic merchant then lit a smidgen of incense and let the sweet smoke waft over the stone while whispering a blessing she blew into the universe…
Uncle Eddie hurled his breath like a hurricane at the crowd of candles dotting his nautical themed birthday cake. Seventy-five years and even more family and friends paying him homage. At my behest, each brought a photo and shared a favorite memory of Uncle Eddie. If the candle snuffing hadn’t drained him, surely the litany of faded moments he struggled to capture like racing ripples on the waters must have flagged him.
At first their words sloughed off his broad shoulders like soft rain, but then, as the torrent of tears and unrelenting gifts of love finally seeped into his soul, the Captain’s hard countenance softened. He began repeating our names in a halting voice, embellishing each with a smile.
When he got to me the Captain clasped the rock.
“Norwegian moonstone,” I instructed. Uncle Eddie frowned.
“I know, Eric. You and I used to dig these up on the beach here at Puget Sound.”
“Not quite,” I buried my words in my despair. “Seattle’s a ways from Norway but close enough…”
Uncle Eddie brightened.
“It’s a good memory. I can treasure it…for now…” The captain cast his rheumy eyes around the room and snagged the hearts of all those he couldn’t bear to let slip away again. “But I pray I’ll always remember tonight.”
And as the night receded, I kissed the Captain and my aunt knowing we’d never see each other again and fumbled for closure at the door. After accepting my dry apology for not lingering longer, Aunt Ida gave me a playful shove into the moist night. A week later she called to thank me for my guilty gesture and pardoned me for maintaining my distance, both physical and spiritual.
“But you should know you did some good, Eric. The Captain no longer wears a puzzle on his face. He seems anchored, no longer adrift in his mind, as if he finally found a memory he could latch onto.”
MARC LITTMAN has penned numerous short stories. He is the author of two books, “Eddie and Me on the Scrap Heap” about an autistic boy and “The Spirit Sherpa,” a mystery novel with a reincarnation twist.