Gretchen Gossett

The Poet – Fall

Helena watches the leaves falling like burning embers outside Dr. Hadid’s office window. Vermillion against a sea of grey.

“I’m sorry Doctor, could you say it again?”” says Simon pulling out the pen and notebook he remembered to bring to the appointment; the first ten pages contain his notes on the evolution of her symptoms, diagnoses postulated by other specialists, the rest of the pages empty, waiting for answers from Dr. Hadid.

“Primary. Progressive. Aphasia.” Dr. Hadid enunciates each word. “It’s a degenerative syndrome, a collection of symptoms that increase in severity over time.”

“How sure are you, Doctor?”

“The imaging doesn’t show any signs of head injury or stroke. She scored well on the cognitive tests. You both report word finding difficulties and agrammatisms getting progressively worse over the past three years. I’m afraid it’s a textbook case.”

“But, Doctor. No. You don’t understand. I’m… I’m… I’m… I know words! Better than anyone!”

“Dr. De Vries, this isn’t easy news to receive, so I’m going to tell it to you straight. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for PPA. A speech pathologist can give you coping strategies, but this is a progressive disease that’ll advance until you’re unable to speak. It may eventually affect your ability to read, write, and comprehend spoken language.”

The room swirls. Helena tries to collect her words, but as soon as she catches one, the next disappears. She turns to Simon; his mouth is agape. He’s staring at that tree with a few dry leaves clinging to its branches.

Dr. Hadid seizes their muteness to deliver the rest of the devastating news. “There’s no way to know how fast the disease will progress, but typical life expectancy is several years to a decade after diagnosis.”

On the drive home, pedestrians converse on the sidewalks. Helena watches their lips move through the ominous silence inside the car. As soon as he cuts the engine, she flees the car and storms through the front door, up the stairs, and climbs into bed under the covers. Several minutes later, Simon comes into the room and sits on the bed. He pulls off his shoes and lies down under the covers so they’re face to face.

Simon says, “I’m here. We’ll do this together every step of the way.” Helena presses his palm against her racing heart. “I love you, Helena. You know that will never change.”

“Of course that will change,” she says quietly, as if it were a simple and indisputable fact.

“How can you-“

She throws the covers off and sits up in a single movement, thrashing her arms over her head. “I am a poet! A poet with no language! Precocious… precocious…no! Damn it! Precisely! Yes, language! Precisely the thing I’ve always claimed defines our humanity!”

“But how could I ever stop loving you?” His eyes are wet, lips quivering.

“‘…my words are not a window to my home, but electric sinew, coursing blood,’” she rages and spits, quoting a line from her latest collection. “You cannot love a me that no longer exists. You will only love the memory of me.”

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About the Author

Gretchen Gossett a practicing speech language pathologist. Gretchen has taken writing courses at Gotham Writers, including Intro to Fiction, Plot, Character, and Publication. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.