Lucienne was on the ascending escalator when she noticed that Jason was no longer holding her hand. It was about midday and the terminal was a melee of jostling travelers. She craned her neck to look back past a largish couple behind her. Was that Jason a few stairs below? She stepped backwards and trod on the man's foot. He grunted but did not let her past. Then the stairs reached the upper departures level. Lucienne stumbled, regained her balance, and stood bracing herself against the stream of people. They crowded past bumping her aside. She found a safe position next to a concrete column. Jason would appear any moment and she must not miss him.
The human river rushed past. She spotted a child. It was not Jason. Some more children appeared, jumping off the stairs that disappeared beneath their feet. No, he was not one of them. A woman dragging a suitcase on wheels banged into her.
"Dammit," said the woman, "Watch out, get a move on." She trundled off. The encounter distracted Lucienne. Had she missed Jason? She felt a pain in her stomach.
"It's all right," she said to herself, expecting any second he would appear grinning, red hair poking out from under his school cap.
A minute and then another passed. The crowd thinned. A few last passengers walked off the escalator and she had a clear view down to the bottom. Jason was nowhere in sight.
"Where is he?" Her stomach felt worse. What should she do now? She found it difficult to think. "Don't worry," she told herself. "Children these days know their way around."
Then the worry hit her again. What was she doing standing here wasting time? She had to get back down immediately to the lower level and find Jason. Where was the down escalator? She looked around. She couldn't see the descending stairway at all.
"Excuse me." She asked a uniformed airhostess. "Where is the down escalator? I've lost a child and I've got to get to the lower level."
"It's at the other end of the hall to the right of the newspaper stand. If you don't find him you can ask security to make an announcement."
"Thanks," she gasped, and started to run.
The entrance level of the terminal was a long strip of international check-in counters. Many of them were active at this busy hour and lines of passengers had formed in front of them. She scanned the queue at the first counter and seeing no sign of her child, hurried on to the next. After three or four counters she was out of breath and feeling more and more desperate. She ran on. Tears welled up. Somewhere in the middle of the hall she stood stock-still and cried out. "Jason, Jason, where are you?" She turned and ran, weeping. Then she snagged her stocking on something sharp. The boy was nowhere in sight. Sobbing and crying his name she reached the end of the hall and collapsed into a seat.
Moments later she felt a hand on her shoulder. "Ma'am can I help you?" She looked up at a man with "Airport Security" written on his jacket. Her head whirled. She felt terribly disoriented.
"What's the matter ma'am?" asked the guard. "Tell me how I can help you."
What was the matter, she wondered. Oh yes!
"It's Jason," she said. "I can't find him."
"He's my son."
"Where did you last see him?"
"He was with me all the time."
"How old is he? What does he look like."
"He's about twelve. No that's not right, he's seven years old. He has red hair. His name is Jason."
The announcement went out over the PA system. "May we have your attention please! A small boy has been lost. He is about seven years old, has red hair and answers to the name of Jason. If you have seen this child, please notify one of the airport staff. Thank you."
Lucienne sat in the office sipping a cup of tea that someone had thoughtfully provided. She felt her muscles relax. Security men and women were already combing the halls of the terminal. Soon he would be found. Everything was going to be all right.
Some time later the door opened and small man with a beard entered. He introduced himself as the head of Airport Security and asked to see her identification. He wrote down the information on a pad.
"Now Mrs. Ryder," he said kindly, "I want you to tell me all the details. I understand that your son was with you in the airport. Have you just arrived on a flight? Are you departing, or are you accompanying or waiting for a passenger?"
She thought for a minute before answering. It was a simple question but she wasn't sure of the answer. "I think we have just arrived," she said feeling a bit stupid.
"May I see your flight tickets please?"
She opened her handbag and sorted through the contents but could find no tickets. She looked at him and smiled. "I don't seem to have a ticket."
"I see. Which flight were you on?" He rephrased. "Where were you coming from?"
"From home. We were coming from home."
"Where do you live, Mrs. Ryder?"
She gave him an address and the name of a city.
"That's not far from here," said the head of Airport Security. "You don't need an airplane to get from there to here. Do you remember the phone number?"
"Let's look it up in the book then. I'll phone your home and find out what this is all about. By the way do you often have problems remembering things?"
"Not at all. My memory is fine. It's just that I'm feeling a bit nervous and confused."
Jason was seated at the piano playing the opening bars of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. It was one of his favorites. The past few weeks had been difficult ones. The exam in statistical analysis was looming closer and there was still a pile of theories he hadn't absorbed. The staff of the university was out on strike during renegotiation of their work agreement. Last night's episode with Barbara had been particularly tense. She had invited him to a little Italian restaurant that they both loved. She was wearing an off shoulder blue evening gown that made her look delicious. The waiter brought them a bottle of the best champagne. "Tonight I'm feeling so special," she smiled over the candles. "Do you know why?"
"Of course I do, my darling. Tonight is our anniversary. It's exactly two years since we've been together and what a wonderful two years it's been. I'm more in love with you than ever."
"I have something special for you tonight. It's a little unconventional I know. It's the man who usually goes down on his knees." She blushed a little then went on. "But I am who I am and you are who you are so here goes." She fished in her handbag and handed over a small velvet box. He looked confused, took a large sip of champagne.
"Go on open it." Inside was a ring made of white gold. Barbara made a mock curtsey. "Jason, I love you dearly, will you marry me?"
Something was tearing his body apart. This was a moment he had feared was coming yet somehow had managed to avoid until now. He coughed and tried to speak. His throat felt dry. He drank some more champagne.
"Jason tell me yes. I'll be a wonderful wife and mother, and you'll be a great father, I'm sure of it. We know each other so well already, why should we wait any longer...and next birthday I'll be thirty-one!"
"Barbara," he started, "we've spoken about this before. Of course I love you dearly but I'm just not ready." "Yet", he added as if that would put things right. "Just give me a little more time."
"Time, time! That's exactly the point Jason. I've waited a long time. Two years to be exact. In another few years I may not be able to have children at all. Thirty-five, thirty-six, who knows, perhaps I'll dry up. My sister's kids are already in first and third grade. How do you think I feel when I visit them? Janet's my younger sister."
"Barbara please stop shouting, people are looking at us."
"I'm not shouting, It's just, I'm...oh I can't take this any more. I'm so ashamed. So sorry." She snatched the ring back, stood up. "I'm going home, waiter please call a cab. Call me when you're ready Jason."
And now there was this business with his mother. She had been very forgetful and confused about small things. A few days ago she prepared a meal and had not only forgotten to serve it but also forgot she had made it. On several occasions she couldn't remember simple words. Sometimes she was difficult to understand. Yesterday he had found one of her blouses in the freezer.
He decided to speak to her about it and waited for an appropriate moment. Then he found her sitting at the piano with a puckered brow.
"Mother, can I have a word with you?"
She continued to gaze into nowhere.
"There's something I think we need to discuss," he tried again.
"I can't remember how Für Elise starts," she said.
"So read the notes." He leafed through a pile of manuscripts, found the right one and placed it on the music rest.
"I can't remember how it starts," she repeated.
"No problem, here you go." He opened the music sheet.
"Oh dear," she said. "Für Elise is one of my favorites. How could I forget the notes?"
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Forgetting things I mean. I'm a little concerned about you. Perhaps you should talk to Dr. Taylor-Jones about it."
"How does Für Elise start? Please help me."
"Here." He leaned over her and played the opening notes. Then he took her hands and placed them on the keys.
"No, you play," she said.
He sat down beside her on the stool and played the piece. Half way through she burst into tears.
That was a week ago. Now the phone was ringing, disturbing his concentration. He stopped playing and answered it. It was a call from a security man at the nearby airport. He listened for a moment to what the man was saying.
"She's my mother," he answered. "I'll be there in half an hour."
Dr. Taylor-Jones shuffled through his papers. "I'm not sure exactly what the problem is," he said to Jason. We'll have to do some neurological tests. There are several possibilities, so let's wait until we get the results. In the meanwhile, I can prescribe some drugs that will smooth things out, make it easier for her to cope. If it worsens, she's eventually going to need help and supervision. Some families take this on themselves, others hire an outside caregiver. It's a personal decision."
Jason sighed. "What do I tell her? Mom, sorry, we're going to have to make some changes. You're going to have to cut down on some things, give up others. She's such an independent sort. Maybe we shouldn't tell her at all at the moment. Play it by ear for a while. How will this affect her doctor?"
"When we know what it is, I think we're going to have to tell her. It's her right to know what her condition is. But let's not jump to conclusions at this stage. Each case is different and needs to be treated on an individual basis. If it's Alzheimer's, the law requires that I put in a report to the Department of Motor Vehicles. This may mean that her driving license will be revoked or that she may not be allowed to drive unaccompanied."
Jason sat at his desk in the study thinking about Lucienne. She had always been such a rock of Gibraltar; he could not adjust to the prospect of her being in any way dependent, needing assistance. His father had died when he was two and since then she had played the role of both parents. As he grew up, Jason realized that he had a closer relationship with Lucienne than most of his friends had with their mothers—"as close as peas in a pod", she would say. They shared everything, their joys and excitements, and their disappointments too. Now, nearly thirty-three, although most of his friends were married with their own families and homes, it still seemed like the most natural thing in the world to continue living with his mother.
As he sat there reminiscing he felt a hand on his shoulder and turning, found Lucienne standing beside him. "I think we need to have a little talk," she said. "I've seen Dr. Taylor-Jones several times about these lapses of memory that I've been having."
"Yes I know. I saw him the other day and he mentioned it."
"He has done some tests."
Jason preferred silence at this point.
"He says I might be developing Alzheimer's disease. Don't look so worried darling, its quite manageable. I suppose you know about Alzheimer's. It seems that a lot of people are suffering from it these days. The doctor gave me a pamphlet to read. I'll show it to you."
"Did he speak to you about the changes that might be necessary to your lifestyle?"
"Yes, he said that some changes might eventually be necessary. Evidently each case is different and the treatment is usually personalized. He gave me some pills."
"Did he mention that you might have some problems renewing your driver's license?"
"My driver's license? Oh no darling. He didn't say anything about that. But surely this condition doesn't affect one's ability to drive. After all these years that's a pretty automatic thing you know. I don't think driving is the kind of thing I could ever forget. Of course I might forget my keys somewhere, or..." She faltered.
"Or forget how to get home. Or forget where you put the car. Or forget that you'd driven anywhere in the first place," he bit his lip. "I'm sorry Lucienne, I shouldn't be so harsh, but that incident at the airport last week got me pretty worried."
She looked blank. "What incident at the airport? I don't remember being at the airport. When was that? Go on, tell me."
Jason's heart sank. So there it was. This was the way things were going to be from now on. He found it hard to handle his feeling of helplessness. The tables were turned and he was not prepared for it emotionally. Now he was going to be the one that would have to provide that support, protect her from hazards, be there when he was needed. And then he thought about Barbara, how would she understand all this?
Instinctively understanding his reaction, Lucienne sat down beside him on the bench and put her arms around him.
"It's not so bad my darling," she said. "I'm not going to forget everything all the time you know. Most of the time I'll still be quite my normal self. We can still continue doing most of the things that we enjoy together. It's a gradual process, the doctor said. Come, let's play a little Chopin shall we?"