The Final Chapter: A Short Story Collection by Janice Alonso by Janice Alonso - Read Online

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The Final Chapter - Janice Alonso

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Hearts

The Final Chapter

Gabrielle slides the key into the lock of the bookshop door, giving it a jiggle. Like everything in her life lately, the lock is old and finicky and has special needs and peculiarities requiring it to work properly. Her left hand grips her Dad's arm. The arm is angular, and she can feel the sharp knobs on either side of the elbow as she pulls him closer and out of the rain. Streams cascade off the mildewed awning and drench his fedora. The hat has served him well, and it will have to keep serving if things don't soon improve for the better: for the much, much better. Her dad's ever-growing health demands have forced her to keep shorter hours at their bookshop. This loss of income, added to the spiraling price of his medications, has required her to take regular withdrawals from her savings account each month to make ends meet.

He lowers his head and his eyes latch onto hers, struggling for a click of recognition that will allow him entrance to a familiar world. A drop rolls off the hat's brim, finds the gap between Gabrielle's neck and shirt collar, and snakes an icy path down her bare back. She glances up to her Dad. He blinks rapidly, his head swiveling to look across the street, to the clock face in Brennan's Pharmacy tower and then back to the key in the lock.

It's okay, Dad, she reassures him as she jangles the key harder, Almost got it now.

Her eyes focus on the clock: 9:59. Her pulse quickens and she returns her attention to the lock, prodding and poking frantically, cajoling and wiggling the key out and then sliding it back in, this time finding the sweet spot that releases the pin.

Gabrielle's muscles relax and she smiles. See, we're in. Her heart returns to a softer rhythm.

She pushes open the door and steps aside. Her hand leaves his elbow and finds that familiar hollow in the small of his back. Although his vertebrae is curved now, brittle and worn beneath her fingertips, the touch reminds her of a time when that spine supported the weight of their world, fought to forge the memories for the life story that is theirs. She coaxes him inside and just as the door shuts, the first gong peals. A sound that had once been part of their mutual tapestry of stability has now unraveled into a cacophonous intrusion, like the clanging of two metal pots banged backside against backside.

Intrusion, the word resounds in her mind and produces a menacing ringing like the gongs. The pots hold the two stews that feed their existence: stability and intrusion. That's what Alzheimer's does: it brings the caregiver, as well as the victim, a rollercoaster life of highs and lows, periods of break-neck speeds juxtaposed against tedious, slow climbs to reach a coasting period where life can pretend to be normal, at least for a while.

Her dad's eyes widen and his hands scramble for the woolen scarf she'd tied around his shoulders that morning. He grasps it in his clenched fists like a toddler with a security blanket and brings it up to cover