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The bright morning light that seeped through the attic window fell in streaks on the trunk which Ellen had opened. It was the third trunk she’d searched. She’d already gone through the contents in the barrel-back trunk and in the black metal one that had belonged to her grandmother. Now she looked through the leather trunk that she had brought with her when she’d gone to housekeeping on the ranch. She hadn’t opened it in years. “At last,” she muttered, pulling out a swath of white. She held out the fabric, slightly yellowed, then hugged it to her chest.
“What are you doing?”
Ellen whirled around. She hadn’t heard him come up the stairs. “Looking for this,” she replied, unfolding the garment. “Do you remember it?”
“You bet I do. You wore it when we were married. It’s a dinger. You were, too.” His eyes lit up.
Ellen smiled at him, surprised that such a little thing had stuck in his mind.
“What do you want that for?”
“For June’s wedding quilt. The piecing’s done, and I’m stitching it together. This morning I remembered it. I want it in the quilt. I’ll cut a piece of it and tack it on.”
“June’s getting married?”
Ellen took a deep breath. She shouldn’t have climbed the stairs. Her doctor had warned her, had said it wasn’t good for her heart. She had taken the stairs slowly, resting on each landing, but still, she could feel the exertion. “June is getting married.”
“Well, good for her. I hope he’s worthy of her. She’s the best of the bunch. When’s the wedding?”
“You can ask her. She’s downstairs in John’s room, sleeping.”
“June’s here. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Ellen clinched her fists, not at her husband but at fate. She had told him. In fact, he had gone into Durango with her the night before to meet June’s plane. She had told him about the wedding, too, several times, and he had met their granddaughter’s fiancé when the young man visited earlier in the year.
He turned his head to look out the window. “Maybe you did tell me. Maybe I just forgot,” he said, sitting down on one of the trunks. “I forget an awful lot, don’t I?”
“Your brain’s just not big enough to cram everything into it. Some things have to get shoved out to make room for the new.” She took his gnarled hand, the fingers twisted from where a devil horse had stepped on them, the skin mottled with scars and bumps, so many she had forgotten how he got them all. She loved his hands—gentle hands that caressed the horses, caressed her. She remembered those first years on the ranch, when he couldn’t keep them off her, and even now, when he reached for her in the night, just to hold her, to know she was beside him. His hands remembered, even if he didn’t.
He had forgotten so much. “It’s age,” the doctor had said, “age and being a rancher. How many times do you suppose he’s been bucked off a horse?”
Ellen had shrugged. “I don’t know. Too many to count. Surely there’s something you can do. I won’t have it. This just isn’t fair.”
There was nothing to be done, however. The confusion and the memory loss would only get worse, the doctor said.
“He mixes up things. He talks about something that happened forty years ago as if it were last week. And then he can’t remember what he did yesterday.”
“Old age is like that, Ellen. Just keep an eye on him so he doesn’t wander off.” He paused, then added that wouldn’t be easy with her own health. She couldn’t go gallivanting all over the countryside following him around. She and her husband would be better off living in town, finding a little house or better yet an apartment, so she wouldn’t be tempted to overdo things. “I don’t suppose old Ben would do that, would he?” he asked.
“We’re not that old,” Ellen replied. “Wild horses couldn’t drag Ben into an apartment. He’d dry up if he couldn’t be in his mountains. And I’ll die before I let anybody take him away from the ranch. You just wait and see.”
“You might do just that. With that heart of yours, you’d be better off in town, too. Think about it, Ellen.”
The doctor was right. Another year on the ranch might kill both of them. Still, Ellen wasn’t willing to give up, not yet, anyway. Oh, she had talked to a realtor. Prices for ranch land were good, and the ranch would sell quickly, but she wouldn’t sign the papers. She’d wait until spring and see how things were. She wanted one more winter in front of the fireplace Ben had built out of rocks he’d collected, the two of them warm in her quilts spread over the solid wooden chairs. They would talk about their life together. What did it matter that Ben couldn’t remember all of it? She would remember for both of them. Then the memories would die with her. Nobody cared about the stories of an old woman.
“Come on. Let’s go downstairs,” Ellen said, gripping her husband’s hand as she stood up, the white fabric under her arm.
Ben looked confused. “I know I came up here for something, but I can’t remember what.”
“You came up here for me.”
Copyright © 2018 by Sandra Dallas