A slice without passionfruit

22 January, 2014

Christie Arthur recently completed her Higher School Certificate (HSC). As part of her Extension 2 English Course, she was required to compose an original Major Work. Her Major Work comprises a collection of short stories about her life touched by Alzheimer’s disease.

“My main aim is for this collection of short stories to ring true to those people who are experiencing, or have experienced, Alzheimer's within their family. For a broader audience, I hope that my stories will educate the wider community.” – Christie Arthur

Read Christie’s collection of stories here:

A Slice Without Passionfruit – by Christie Arthur

Each December is a parallel to the last, like a universe collapsing upon itself, time warping, twisting, looping. We follow the footsteps of our Christmas ghosts, a little taller, a little wiser. Each Christmas, Nana Grace treads the same path. She disappears, quieter than a whisper, but returns with an air of triumph and grace. She is accompanied by the most exquisite pavlova. Covered by a thick layer of cream over the fluffy white meringue, it is crowned by sliced strawberries and drizzles of golden passionfruit.

Except for one slice. One slice, each year, misses out on the passionfruit. The scarlet strawberries are left uncovered by the thick, sweet juice. This slice is for Papa Sam.

***

If I close my eyes in ten years time, I will probably still know the feeling of the five minute drive to Nana Grace and Papa Sam’s.

They live on 4 Ash Close, a quiet lane compared to the busy main road on which our home sits. As a child I always believed Nana Grace’s house was magic. My cousins and I would scale the stone stairs out the back, marveling at the magnificent magenta camellias that hugged the metal arches above our heads. At lunch we would sit around the pond amongst the ferns and watch the tadpoles grow legs and disappear. We lurked outside Pa’s shed, waiting for him to appear immersed in the sweet smell of sawdust.

This year is our first Christmas since Papa Sam was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

I hadn’t noticed anything was wrong. In March the doctor told him he had the most common type of dementia – Alzheimer’s. All I knew was that it meant Papa Sam would forget things. That’s it. Just little things – like what day it is or whether he’s eaten or taken his medication.

To be honest, it feels like nothing. Really it’s a word, a label. It’s the name for his occasional slip of the tongue and an excuse almost for the effects of old age. The only way I ever notice is in his unusually aggressive temperament – he was once placid and gentle – and occasional blank episodes. But other than that, he is still the same old Papa Sam.

“Oh, don’t you look gorgeous,” Nana Grace dotes, grabbing Elle and I and squeezing us close as we step through the door. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas, Nana Grace,” we both chorus, kissing her cheek. Everyone rushes around us, greeting and repeating the obligatory “Oh haven’t you grown!” I just laugh and smile.

At the end of the hall is Papa Sam.

“Elle!” he calls to my sister who is just ahead of me. “How are you, my darling?”

He hugs her, his eyes flicking to me over her shoulder. For a moment his face is shining, but then his eyes go dull, his forehead creasing. He looks slightly frightened staring at me. My heart stops.
His eyes lighten to my relief and a smile spreads across his face. He lets go of Elle and I cross to greet him.

“Hello…” he falters, “Other one.”

My heart stops again, and my stomach ties into knots. Pa laughs it off and I smile along side him until he remembers my name.

“Alex, of course,” he says. “The unforgettable Alexandra.”

Now I realise that everything’s real. I’m not unforgettable. I can be just as easily erased from his mind as a pencil line from paper. I can’t pretend anymore that it’s just a label. His Alzheimer’s is there, and it is creating the tangles and plaques in his brain we feared.

Read the complete set of stories