Pavlov’s Alzheimer’s


Pavlov’s Alzheimer’s

Rick Coleman and his grandson, Ricky Junior, stood in front of the entrance to Watsford Bank and watched the automated revolving door.

Rick Senior had trouble timing his first step because the glass panels divided the door into four sections, and it was moving too fast for a man fast approaching seventy-three. He shuffled a few paces backward, and used the bottom end of his ivory cane to tap at the heel of one of his polished black and white brogues.

“Doesn’t this door remind you of one of Grandma Emma’s big old cherry pies, Junior? A slice for me, some cherry goo; a slice for her; and the biggest slice for you!”

Rick looked down at the boy whose face lit up at the sound of the rhyme, and whose head was almost level with his grandfather’s hip. The boy was small for his age, but he had a big heart. When one of the pallbearers fainted at Grandma Emma’s funeral a year ago, the boy, then five, rushed up and offered to ‘carry’ the coffin all by himself. Without waiting for a response (probably knowing full well it was going to be a NO), he ducked in underneath the coffin and lifted with all his might, in the same pose Superman picked up a car in the original movie.

“I have super strength,” the boy groaned, bringing a few smiles to some of those standing around the open grave where Grandma Emma was to be buried. Grandpa Rick gave the signal for the pallbearers to lift the coffin a bit higher. Even though they were a man short, they did it. No one argued with Rick Coleman Senior. Of course, little Ricky Junior believed it was he was lifting the coffin.

“Can you see any numbers on those glass panels, Junior?” Rick Senior had never set foot inside a bank; the bank always came to Rick Senior’s estate. “Which one do we step into? Is there a button we have to press to make it stop?” Rick was mumbling to himself, as it happens when Alzheimer’s greets old age with a friendly head-butt in the face.

Ricky Junior knew exactly what his grandfather had said. The boy had been living with his grandparents since birth, and picking up on the old man’s incoherent speech (which had become considerably worse since Grandma Emma’s passing) was second nature. The boy could lip read at the age of four.

Rick Junior watched the revolving door, the fringe of his untidy blond hair swish-swishing over his brow like brittle broom bristles. He knew there wouldn’t be a sign. Revolving doors never had signs in his comics, this much he knew—they were made of metal and glass, full stop. He took off his glasses, steamed them up with his breath, and wiped them over the cotton of his Spiderman T-shirt. Putting on the glasses again he squinted and pulled his nose up in a bunch, searching for a number or sign, just in case there was one. Grandpa didn’t take disappointment too well. Just ask Larry MacDowell, Grandpa’s lawyer of thirty years who now limps and carries the scar on his left knee where Rick Senior hit him with a red hot fireplace poker.

“Nope. Not even an arrow, Grandpa.” Ricky Junior tried to sound disappointed.

“Well, we can’t be standing here like two hobos on the street all day long, can we, Junior? What do you suggest we do?”

“I’ll go in first, Grandpa. I’ll get someone to come and help you.”

“Good man. See that security guard inside there by the counter?” Rick Senior might have been in his early seventies but he had the eyes of a cat. “The fat one with the tight uniform? Can you see him? I bet he can come out here and give us a hand.”

Ricky Junior squinted through the reflection of passing traffic in his lenses and in the revolving door’s glass panels. He could only make out the man’s shape. “Yes, I can see him, Grandpa. But why can’t he see us?”

The overweight security guard with the too-tight uniform, who hadn’t noticed the two Colemans standing outside the bank entrance, turned his head away and, in a desperate to attempt to become the king of cool, was now leaning sideways and resting an elbow against the cashiers’ Oregon pine counter. He was flirting with Minnie Blythe, the newly-appointed and much talked-about cashier behind glass cubicle number four.

“Oh, you know the answer to that one, Ricky. It’s because we have superpowers. We’re invisible.” A smirk scrunched up all the wrinkles in his face. “He can’t see us because we have superpowers,” the old man said again, this time more to himself.

Ricky Junior thought his grandfather looked more like a villain than a superhero. It wasn’t only because his mouth naturally curled up at the corners (in more dramatic fashion than the Joker’s), but also because of three deep ‘battle scars’ carved into his hollow cheeks every time he smiled. Then there was also the colour of his skin, sallow, like eggshells, and the dark rings under the hollow of his eyes that matched the colour of his knee-length coat; the twirled moustache (its edges standing out and gleaming like two scalpels mechanically attached to his upper lip); the carved-out Burmese tiger handle of the ivory cane (its eye had an eerie green sheen to it when the light caught it at a certain angle; the black leather gloves he never seemed to take off, slightly worn at the tips; and of course, the polished black and white brogues.

Ricky Junior never mentioned the fact that he thought Rick Senior looked like a villain. That struggle with disappointment, again—ask Larry MacDowell about it.

“I always knew we had superpowers, Grandad. Are our superpowers like those in the comics?”

“Just like in the comics, Junior. But we have to learn to control them. There’s nothing more dangerous than a superhero that can’t control his powers.”

“And that’s why we came to the bank, right, Grandpa? To practise?”

“Exactly, little man. There’s no better place to practise superpowers than in a bank.”

Ricky Junior pulled a serious face and then pulled at his grandfather’s sleeve. The old man, using his cane as support, bent down a little to his side and cupped his ear. Ricky Junior flashed a few suspicious looks over his shoulders before whispering: “Because there are always bad guys.”

The old man nodded in understanding. “Right you are, Junior. There are always bad guys.”

“Brilliant.” Ricky Junior shut his eyes and imagined himself invisible again. A prickling sensation started in his fingertips and moved up, over his forearms and into his shoulders.

The boy was getting ready to enter the bank through the glass door, which now seemed to revolve faster than before. He did a few stretches and loosened his neck. “Here goes, Gramps.”

“Good man, Junior. Good man.”

A fitter-looking security guard flanking the revolving door on the inside, to Ricks right, spotted the old man and the boy, and immediately understood their predicament. He put his hands on his hips and sighed, or maybe he muttered under his breath. Anyhow, it was clear that the Rick and Ricky weren’t the first people to have trouble entering the bank. The door was revolving too fast. The guard said something to his partner on the other side, a man a third the size of the overweight security guard at counter number four (who, in no uncertain terms had just been told off by Minnie Blythe who asked him politely to fuck right off before I stick this letter opener into one of your puffy eyes).

The short guard, the one on the left of the door, showed his annoyance by massaging his temples with such ferocity, Rick Senior was certain the man was going to pierce his own skull with his thumb and forefinger. By the way he slammed the newspaper down into the leather upholstery of the Burmese teak chair it was apparent that the door had been giving them shit for days, maybe weeks. He reached for the hardwood door of an overhead control box.

Rick Senior knew exactly what was coming. Ricky Junior was about to make a run for the door when his grandfather shouted: “Junior! Use your powers to slow down the door! You can do it, my son. You can do it! Hold it … hold it …Concentration, boy. It’s all about keeping your cool.”

Ricky Junior, in a superhero’s flawless running stance, froze to the spot as if God himself had accidentally hit the PAUSE on His remote, and was sitting on it.

At that exact moment, while the short guard was turning the dial to adjust the door speed, encouragement came in the form of a nod from the fitter looking guard on the right side of the door, who also made brief eye contact with Ricky Junior just as he was about to conjure the power of slow motion. The boy closed his eyes and was concentrating so hard that his cheeks started to puff. His face went red and caused his eyebrows stand out like the frayed threads of discarded pot scrapers.

The door slowed and Ricky Junior opened his eyes. “I did it, Grandpa! I did it!”

“You did it, my boy. Indeed! Ha! Together, you and I are unstoppable!”

“Don’t you mean invincible, Grandad?”

‘Yes, that’s the word: invincible! Well done, Junior.” Rick Senior leaned forward on his ivory cane and then started walking in the boy’s direction. He knew there was something he had to give the boy and reached into his coat pocket. His fingers ran over something cold and heavy, which brought on ‘the spin’, as Rick Senior referred to that moment when a whirlwind of confusion reaches into one brain’s memory storage compartments and crushes them with whirlwind-like speed. Another of God’s special remote control buttons (BLANK SCREEN), the one He pressed more often than not.

“What am I doing here?” Rick Senior backtracked onto the pavement towards the flow of traffic that swirled behind him in tumultuous cacophony. He came to rest against the side of a parked taxi.

The boy relied on his lip reading skills. “We’re at the bank, Grandpa,” he shouted, his voice taking on a quality of panic when he noticed the murky colours swirling in his grandfather’s eyes. “We’re here to practise our superpowers, remember?”

Rick Senior’s fingers came into contact with the cold object in his pocket again. He knew it had a purpose. “Think, old man! Think!” he whispered to himself while the tip of his index finger traced the outline of the cold rectangle in his pocket. “Think, damnit!”

Four words filled the ruins of his memories, like fresh orange juice being poured into broken, but chilled glasses: ‘Bank.’ ‘Rectangle.’ ‘Cold.’ ‘Password.’ The old man’s lips trembled as each word formed a side of the rectangle. Then, ‘Short.’ ‘Long.’ ‘Short.’ ‘Long.’ The more he rubbed the rectangle the faster his memories were being repaired.

Soft blue, a colour often associated with overcooked scrambled eggs, returned to Rick Senior’s eyes when he let out a heavy sigh. He didn’t know why, but his mouth carried the faint odour of freshly squeezed orange juice.

“What’s the password, Junior?” His tongue didn’t feel swollen and his speech was clear.

“Pavlov’s Alzheimer’s,” the boy said.

The whirlwind again threatened to steal the old man’s memories but Rick Senior knew exactly what to do: he clung to the comfort of the cold object in his coat pocket, and mulled over the boy’s words, spoken with such conviction. The whirlwind, for once, died a quick death.

“Right you are again, little man!” Rick shouted, “Pavlov’s Alzheimer’s!”

Rick Coleman pulled the boy close to him and held him for a moment, his right hand covering the Spiderman print on the back of his T-shirt. Chrome-like tears rolled down the battle scars in the old man’s cheeks. Rick Senior let out an infectious laugh that rumbled from deep within his stomach. Ricky Junior also burst out laughing. He had no idea why; all he felt was happiness radiating from within the warmth of his grandfather’s embrace.

The boy looked up at his grandfather and caught a glimpse of happiness in the old man’s face, although he still imagined his grandfather more of a villain than a superhero. “A super villain.” Ricky Junior regretted his words immediately and bit down on his bottom lip.

His grandfather wasn’t paying attention, however. He was watching the three security guards pissing around inside the bank. He also kept a close eye on Minnie Blythe, who was running the blunt blade of the letter opener over her left wrist; Rick Coleman Senior rubbed his fingers over the bottom part of the gun handle in his pocket.

With his free hand he used his cane and gave the boy’s bottom a gentle tap, gesturing for him to move forward, and together grandfather and grandson entered the bank through the automated revolving door.

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