© J. Francois Barnard - 20 December 2023

When I planned a business trip to Jeffreys Bay, I warned Dorothy well in advance that I would visit her. She was my late mother's best friend, and in my teens, I saw her almost every day. I had not seen her for decades since then, but I had some contact with her since I notified her of my mother's passing. The resident nurse at the retirement village told me about Dorothy's dementia and strongly encouraged me to come, citing loneliness as one of Dorothy's significant problems.

Dorothy WeddingWhat the nurse did not tell me was how bad her hearing impairment was. I knocked on her front door for a long time until the security guard called a caregiver to come with keys to open the door for me.

"What a big boy you have become!" the little lady exclaimed when she realised who it was in front of her.

At almost sixty, the "big boy" was now completely grey and towered over six foot two for the last four decades. She wanted to know everything, and I told her as much as I could. I repeated myself several times when I saw she could hardly hear me.

Her face lit up when I took my phone out and showed her photos of my family and, eventually, of my late mother. I even had pictures of her and my mother together. "That's me!" she said in amazement. "Where do you get these photos?" Tears rolled down her cheeks when I showed her a picture of her and her late husband posing with my mother. "I still find myself talking to him, you know?"

I could see her thoughts drift off, and then she suddenly said, "Are you married?" A few moments ago, she still adored my grandchildren! I responded with my old joke, "Yes, I kept on getting married until I found the right mother-in-law!"

"Is she good for you?" Dorothy inquired. I told her about my loving wife, children and grandchildren. It seemed as if she took it all in, but I wondered how long it would last.

"Let's go and eat," she said and protested when I told her I could fix something small in the kitchen. "No, you are my guest, and I am going to take you out for dinner."

She disappeared into her room and seemed to be more in control of herself. She reappeared, all dressed up, made up, and perfumed for a night on the town.

Dorothy Wedding"Dorothy!" the maître'd welcomed her, "I have not seen you in ages!" We found a quiet place with less ambient noise, and Dorothy ordered a bottle of wine. Her transformation was apparent. Gone was the helpless old lady. Aunt Dorothy from my teens reappeared. She suggested that I try the fillet from the menu.

"Show me those pictures again," she requested. I took my phone out, and we browsed through our shared history. She was the last one standing, and she knew it. Late that evening, I greeted a different Dorothy than the one I saw earlier that afternoon.

For a week, Dorothy would call me every day, thanking me for the visit and asking me to come again. Then she skipped a day, and then another, and on the third day, she called again.

"I dreamed about you," she said, "and God showed me he will give you a lovely, Christian wife!"
"He has already, Dorothy, and we recently celebrated our thirtieth anniversary," I replied.

I revisited her nine months later.

"What a big boy you have become!" she said, and I showed her all the pictures on my phone again.


Editor's note: The above story was the result of an assignment done in the Creative Writing course, Section The Craft of Character, at Wesleyan University.