You Must Remember This by Alison Wassell
He takes her back to where they began. The boarding house has retained its original features; woodchip wallpaper, rotting window frames that groan in the early autumn gales, chipped tiles around the fireplace in the guests’ lounge. It is all as he remembers it, just a fraction shabbier. She recognizes nothing.
‘When are we going home?’ she pleads, although she no longer knows where home is. He smiles, and pacifies her with an ice-cream cone. She bites off the end and giggles when the melting mess dribbles through onto her fingers. She licks them like a child, staring wide-eyed at him, expecting to be told off. He kisses her forehead and gently wipes her hands with a tissue. He hates the fact that he has become her carer. In his eyes she is still beautiful.
The drizzle never stops, the whole week. Hoods up, they share bags of chips on the prom, jabbing at them with the wooden forks he thought had long gone out of fashion. Surely this will jog her memory. She chews, her face expressionless, then grips his hand again. She wants to go home.
In the mornings she leaves her Full English untouched on the willow pattern plate which he suspects is the same one she used all those years ago. She seems to have forgotten how to use cutlery. As though she senses that she has disappointed him she starts to cry. The landlady, who was a child in pigtails the last time they visited, squeezes his shoulder.
On the last day, trudging disconsolately on the beach, they stumble across the old carousel. Her breathing quickens as she lets go of his hand, rushing to caress the flaking paint of the old horse.
‘Hercules,’ she exclaims, as though greeting an old friend. It was the name they gave, laughingly, to the horse they rode together, that first time. They named their first dog after it.
He watches her ride alone, one of her sandals dangling off and her thinning grey hair forming some kind of halo. In the pockets of his anorak his fists are clenched against the tears. It is something, he tells himself.