An Irony by Bruce Costello

An author is confused about where he is as his memory degrades; by Bruce Costello.

My chin rests on my shirt and I stare down at the writing pad on the meal tray, trying to fathom this strange feeling I keep getting, like I've dug a deep pit for myself, and when I try to climb out, I fall further in.

I have times of lucidity when I can still write, but my memory is failing, my ideas are all over the place. Often I write what I don't mean, or by the time I get to the end of a paragraph, I've forgotten the beginning. Sometimes I can't recall common words. And I waste time trying to get grammar right, though no editor will ever see this, or would be able to decipher it, if he did. At High School, my English teacher said my handwriting was like the meanderings of a drunken spider.

Sometimes I meander down to the end of the corridor and then find myself at the traffic lights in my pyjamas and the police bring me back here. They tell me this is where I live now. If you think that's weird, how do you think I feel? But at least I can still write when the drugs click in for an hour or two, and I'm writing my memoirs.

I can't think of a single period in my adult life that I would want to live through again, given the chance. Not that my life has been bad, seen from the outside. I've had what people view as a fortunate existence, with wealth, success and fame.

"Wonderful after-dinner speaker. Had us in fits," people used to say. Or, "Spoke at our graduation ceremony, truly inspiring."

I pray to God for somebody to weep with, to pity and comfort me. I pray to God as sincerely as if I believed in him.

My wife Shirley was a god fearing woman with red hair who thought I was as god fearing as she was, then discovered I wasn't and spent the marriage punishing me with angry, sullen moods. Shirley visits three times a week. I used to know the days and times but they've long slipped past me - but I do recall she comes in on Saturday afternoons with a neighbour called Benjamin, who regards himself as my best friend.

Shirley bends down to me and brushes my brow lightly with her lips. "Mustn't leave lipstick on you and make the nurses jealous."

Benjamin says something hearty. Shirley asks how I am feeling. I give her my best blank look, pretending I don't know who she is. She offers me a grape and glances at Benjamin, who's a handsome guy with flowing brown hair. I see the look that passes between them. She begins to chatter. I say nothing. She whispers to Benjamin: "And to think we all thought he was pretending!"

There's nothing wrong with my hearing. Sometimes I wish there was, but I've got myself into this mess and I'm damned if I can do anything about it. Strange, half-forgotten thoughts fill my head.

After a while Shirley stands and blows me a kiss.

"Cheerio, old chap," says Benjamin, pumping my hand. "Up and at 'em, eh!"

I turn back to the writing pad, but my brain hurts, as it always does after Shirley's been in. I can't decipher what I wrote earlier in the day and don't recall what it was about. I cry in frustration and I pray. After a while, I calm down, and I'm ready to start writing, but when the ink won't flow, I find I'm holding a fork.

I look over what I've just written and guffaw loudly. Two nurses come running in and ask me what's wrong. "Nothing," I shout, flinging my arms about, knocking over a bowl of flowers. "It's all good. All good. Leave me alone!"

The big nurse puts her hands on her hips and turns to the other one. "Fetch Mr Ainsbrook's drug chart, would you? We might need to increase his Exelon."

I never get visitors now, apart from nurses and doctors. Shirley doesn't come.

My head is fuzzed up so much, but there still seem to be moments when I can write, as if time opens a window and then shuts it again, though my handwriting's crap and afterwards I can't understand what I wrote, it's all just meaningless scribbles. I'm not well, you see, which is why they keep me locked up. Some woman visitor came in a minute ago with grapes and there was a man with her, must've been her boyfriend. They were holding hands. I don't know who they were but they were acting as if they knew me. I'm locked up in here. I'll be going home soon when I get better.

A rest home volunteer called Maria visits me. She says she is thrilled to meet such a famous author and she's read everything I've written. She looks a bit like Shirley did when I fell in love with her. I wonder what's become of Shirley? Maria's got red hair like Shirley's, but she's prettier than Shirley. When I talk, she listens with her ears and her big blue eyes. She holds my hand sometimes and I don't feel so alone.

Maria's an amateur actress and she writes plays. She's great fan of mine, which is nice of her, and reads my old stories out to me, though I don't remember writing them and some are weird. There's one she's real keen on, reads it to me, makes the voices come alive, and it gets me all worked up for some reason, not that I let it show. "An Irony," it's called, about some man in his late thirties who feigns early-onset Alzheimers to escape his marriage, but gets trapped inside his own delusions. Unbelievable.


  1. A superbly crafted story, sensitively rendered. Thank you, Bruce,

  2. Such a clever, moving story, Bruce, with an unexpected twist in the ending. Your characters are convincing and the slow development of your story-line well presented. The ending is thought provoking; viz. we should be careful what ruses we resort to; they can backfire on us!

  3. This is really well done. The story leads you along in the beginning, only to pull the rug out from under you, your initial conclusions tossed to the wind. The descriptions are vivid, and, as Beryl mentions, be careful what games you play. There are winners...and losers.

  4. Finely written story with a cruel and unexpected development. This is so convincing, too convincing!
    Mike McC

  5. "And to think we all thought he was pretending!" A perfect hint dropped in mid-story. Thoroughly enjoyable.

  6. Bruce,
    Great story! The mid story hint was so subtle, I didn't digest it until the end. What a prison he created!

  7. Thanks for your comments, folks. Where would I be without feedback?

  8. For some reason, I find stories about dementia more interesting as I grow older. This one hit the target.

  9. Why it's important to write what you need to express when you still can.

  10. Strong and touching. Sometimes we get "good ideas" for a story -- but in in the end it's just that, a good idea, but not a story. Not this one. I'll remember this one. This is a story.

  11. Beautiful story about illusions. An illusion of illusions, finally pulling him into illusions! Great job