“He’d forgotten. Again. He knew how special that moment was to her – how she’d give anything to relive it as many times as possible, but he was sick. He was dying. And he didn’t think she knew.

‘Oh, dear’, she said, her hand slapping against her forehead. ‘I didn’t get the milk.’

Tea. She loved tea. No, not tea, hot chocolate. Or was it coffee?

‘Uh, what were you going to use the milk for?’ he asked, feeling like he was wearing a cap with the word ‘Dunce’ written across it.

‘Mm,’ she said, her sparse eyebrows furrowing together. She walked to the kettle, then paused, releasing a drawn-out sigh.

The kettle. She hadn’t put the kettle on, had she? And he hadn’t reminded her.

He berated himself as she sat on her favourite sofa and flipped through the channels. She was as interested as a child forced to sit through a lecture on ‘How to Watch Paint Dry’.

In times like this, when she seemed preoccupied, he wondered if maybe she had some sort of inkling that she was going to lose him, that he –

‘I’m getting old. Just look at all these wrinkles! Sam was saying the other day, “Gran, you look a bit like a …”’

‘Prune,’ he supplied, relieved he’d wrapped up that moment in tissue paper for her. Sam, he knew, was her treasure.

Her cellphone rang from somewhere, ‘I like big butts and I cannot lie’ a loud reminder of how treasures could sometimes be little shits.

‘Now where is that phone of mine?’

He suggested possible hiding spots. In the pantry. On top of the fridge. Maybe underneath that stack of newspapers –

‘Aha! There it is,’ she said, following the sound to the kitchen counter.

Cora was calling her. Was it the third or fourth time today? He couldn’t quite nail the number.

With the volume turned right up, Cora’s voice echoed worry throughout the little kitchen.

‘Mum, did you remember to take your tablets? We don’t need your blood pressure hitting the roof. The last time was scary enough and –’

‘Well, good morning to you too nagging daughter of mine.’

‘Morning? Mum, it’s after three in the afternoon. I last called you at noon, remember?’

‘Please, Cora. We old ladies are sometimes allowed to lose track of time.’ She tried to go for dismissive, he noted, but the strain around the edges of her words wouldn’t go unnoticed. Cora would latch onto it.

‘Mum, not gonna lie. I’m at 9.5 on the worry scale. I’ll be there as soon as James gets home from work.’

‘I don’t need babysitting, Cora. I’m not an invalid.’

Yes, of course she wasn’t. But when she lost him – when he was completely gone – then what?

‘It’s just,’ Cora said, ‘you haven’t really been yourself. There are things you’ve been forgetting, Mum. I think it’s time we saw a specialist.’

‘Mum,’ Cora called out, ‘did you hear what I said?’

He prompted her to answer, to say something, anything. Without proof of life (immediate speech), Cora would send over an ambulance or the police – or both.

‘Uh, y-yes, dear. I’ll, uh, chat to you later.’

Now it was time for him to chat to her.

‘I’m sorry this is happening, Jean,’ he said. ‘I don’t know how long I have before –’

‘Before you leave me.’

‘You have to know I’m fighting this. Every single day. But I’m losing, Jean.’

‘What would I be without you,’ she said, her voice breaking. ‘Not much more than an empty shell.’

‘I will be here as long as I can.’

‘And I will hold onto you for as long as I can. I am nothing without my precious memory.’”