I wake to the sound of water droplets falling. The air smells damp and stale like an old dish rag. The ground is hard and uneven beneath me. I do not know where I am, but none of this is familiar. I fear I have been lost in this cave for days.
I open my eyes and watch as the tears of stalactites fall on their spiked partners below. The pointed pair grow towards one another like lost lovers, each sad droplet bringing them closer together.
I try to control my jealousy. They are only rocks after all. But who waits for me this way?
A flicker of radiance registers in the corner of my eye. I turn my head to the source of the fleeting luminance and see a concave spilling over with light high above me. This must be the way out.
I clamber up to the high outcropping, scraping my knees on the jagged rocks protruding from the cave wall. The cold air stings my newly-etched wounds, but I am determined to move forward. The only thing on my mind is my escape.
I pull myself onto the ledge and catch my breath. I look behind me and see a place as bleak as any I have ever seen, nothing but moist walls and dark corners. A set of glowing bat eyes stares at me from the pointed ceiling, the light reflecting eerily within them.
Spooked, I duck quickly into the crevice to follow the glow. Inside the natural tunnel, the ceiling is low. I hunch over as I walk to prevent injury to my head. The source of the light is just around the corner. It spills into the hallway ten feet in front of me and bathes the intersecting wall with a curious light that dances like a candle a breeze.
Could this be a person or another danger? This cave is filled with hazards, yet I march forward unafraid. Living in solitude scares me the most. Surely, my salvation is beyond this fearfulness.
I reach the entrance of the cavern and go inside. The ceiling is high and I stand to my full height, sparing a moment to stretch my aching body.
The source of the light is a moving picture on the wall. I approach it with caution. As if seeing through the eyes of another, the image shows the somber face of a man as he stares at me. His brow is furrowed, his eyes are misty, and the corners of his lips are turned downwards.
Something deep inside draws me towards this sorrowful person. I have seen him somewhere before.
There is a chair in front of the living image. I move closer to examine it. It is wooden and braces that support its back are broken. It does not look comfortable for a long sit, but I lower myself into it anyway. From here, I will be able to watch this man watch me.
I am no longer in the cave.
I feel a plush surface beneath me and warm blankets on my legs. The blinds of the windows are open and sunlight washes the room in a natural radiance. I am in a hospital room and I am not alone.
“Daniel?” I croak. My voice is hoarse from lack of use.
The sound of his name passing over my lips brings the sad man to tears. “Renee, Honey! You remember who I am.”
“I could never forget the love of my life,” I say to him sincerely.
His smile falters. “Of course, not.”
“Daniel, Sweetheart, you are my hero.”
He takes my hand nearest to him in both of his, a single tear spilling onto his cheek. I look down at my wedding ring. It has been fifteen years since he placed it on my finger, as witnessed by our closest friends and family.
“What happened to me? Why am I in the hospital this time?” I ask, fearful of the answer.
His eyes search mine for something he cannot find. “Renee, Honey. I really hate to tell you this—but I must.” He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. “Your doctor was here earlier to go over your test results. She says your condition has worsened.”
I look down at the floor. This is not what I wanted to hear.
“Which doctor was it?” I ask defiantly. I feel the anger rising inside of me like volcanic magma.
“Your neurologist, Dr. Jerito,” he answers.
“Of course,” I shout. “And what dire news did she bring this time?”
Daniel sighs, defeated. “She just wanted to reevaluate you.”
“Why?” I feel my cheeks burning. I must be visibly angry now.
“Because—you wandered off again, and—” he tries to explain the situation calmly to placate me, but I am irate.
I cut him off before he can finish. “From where?”
“And where were our girls?”
“Inside the house where you left them—alone.”
My heart sinks to the pit of my stomach. “Why would I do that, Daniel? It doesn’t make sense. I’m a good mother—not a villain!”
“I know you are, Honey. No one saying you’re the villain. It’s the Alzhei—”
“Don’t!” I yell. “Don’t say that word! Don’t ever say it again!”
“Okay, Renee,” he concedes, tearful.
I look over his shoulder. There are pictures moving inside of a small, black rectangle near the ceiling. I watch them for a while before curiosity wins me over.
“What is that?” I ask. I take my hand out of his and point at the living images above.
“What is what?” he questions, turning around in his chair. “You mean the television?”
“Tele—” I pause and continue to watch. “Who are those four women?”
As I pose my inquiry, a small silver-haired woman storms out of the kitchen leaving the three other women of mature age sitting at a circular table eating pie in their nightgowns.
He clears his throat before he answers. “I can’t remember all of their names, but the shortest one is the tallest one’s mother—somehow.”
“You like to watch this?” I query.
“Not particularly, but it’s your favorite show.”
The man gazes at me with saddened eyes as if longing for someone. I do not recognize him, but I can see that he is hurt.
“Are you okay, Sir?” I ask him politely.
“Yes, Renee. I’m fine,” he answers, overwhelmed with emotion.
The man holds back tears, but his voice cracks when he answers. “You’re Renee.”
I sit back and feel wood beneath me. I look around.
I am in a cave staring at a wall covered in a moving picture. There is a sad man there staring straight ahead. I do not know who he is, but I watch as tears fall down his face and onto a blanket below. He is weeping like a stalactite.
“Come back to me,” he chokes through a steady stream of tears. “I still love you.”
I want to go to him, to comfort him, but I do not know how.
“I will wait for you,” he concludes, sobbing. “I’ll be here when you return.”