restricted access Voyager
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8 8 8 8 8 In Now, Voyager . . . The hell of it is he can’t remember exactly what in Now, Voyager. Not important. Bill is sharp. He walks two miles every morning, reads the paper, does the taxes, writes regularly to the children, keeps track of the bills. People treat him the same. But Sara. Sara is like one of those scraps you cut out of magazines and present at the supermarket register, in hopes—a blank coupon, waiting to be redeemed. People ask, “Is she ok out here in the open like this?” when they mean, Is she going to fall down in our store? Their look says you poor bastard. “You must be . . .” Don’t tell me what I must, or how I am. They go to the South-side Publix in St. Petersburg, Florida on Thursdays, Bill dresses Sara nicely in his favorite figured silk that didn’t used to be so loose on her and clamps her hand over his elbow like a sheaf of quills so he can lead her to the Graymont van. If the sky has turned silver and a morning breeze tatters the palm fronds and disturbs the water off the point, he is too intent on his task to see. Let go of her elbow for a minute and Sara will veer, falling off the curb or blundering into the treacherous, springy Bermuda grass where she’ll collapse in the little sigh of air that escapes from under her skirt. It irritates him that she can see these hazards just as plain as he does and walk right into them. Although the others sitting in the van simmer and hiss he takes his time with her, and although he might as well be walking her into a closet or a meat locker for all Sara knows, she smiles at him and gets on. You look up one day to discover the person that you think you know is no longer that person; she’s drifting out to sea, drawn by the tides into an unknown ocean while you stand, helplessly ranting, as she bobs away. Hesitating in the cereal aisle he tries to return her to the shore of the familiar . “Is it Wheat Chex that we like with bananas or is it Rice Krispies?” A flicker is all he hopes for, anything to remind him who she once was. With his heart thudding he tries heavy lifting: “Oh look, that cereal Willy’s kids used to like so much when they came to our house. Lucky Charms.” My God, she turns and smiles, but he has no way of knowing whether it’s their son’s name or the Voyager Voyager 301 Hershey bar he’s given her that makes her face so bright, all shimmering eyes and teeth brown with sweet milk chocolate. Sara is postverbal. “Oh look,” Bill says, because when they don’t talk it makes you talk too much. “Here are cookies just like the ones we used to have at home.” That smile goes on like the light in a refrigerator: because you’re looking in. He would put a pillow over her face and have done with it; no, he’d put her into the health center where the nurses want her and move into town but for that radiant, indiscriminate smile. I’d walk a million miles . . . Bill’s memory goes back too far, which is how to your astonishment you end up old. He doesn’t feel like an old guy but he sees it in the way people look at him. Their spot judgments as he sits her down next to him in the movies and plies her with candy to keep her in place, or pretends Sara is choosing the new dresses he buys for her: why are you wasting your time? Listen. You can bring back even patients who have spent months in a coma through patterning. He’s done a lot of reading about this. Surround them with familiar objects and keep talking and you can teach them just the way a baby learns. You can restore atrophying muscles, you can even reconnect synapses through exercise. Bill has read that through patterning, autistic children can be made to speak and recognize the speaker; they can even learn to hug back, and God, if he gets impatient it is because he still believes if not in happy endings then in convergence, that effort is rewarded and everything you...


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