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Close Strangers

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Lily momentarily thought that she was trapped. It was as if overnight she was spirited away by an unknown kidnapper to a place she had never been before. The bed she woke up in that morning was warm, and the sheets recently changed. A mirrored wardrobe, most likely from the last century, was to her right, and a set of faded curtains to her left. Apart from the garish, peeling wallpaper, the walls of the small bedroom were barren and undecorated. The struggle to leave her bed was a familiar one at least. Every bone seemed to creak under the weight of her small, trembling frame. She parted one of the curtains and was greeted with a sea of gray. A thick fog had settled on what seemed like an ordinary neighborhood. The morning sun could only help her see a few neighboring houses, but unfortunately, none were familiar to her.

The door to her room was unlocked, so she stepped out. Her surroundings weren’t that of a prison, but of an old neglected house, whose few hallways and closed doors still managed to disorient her.

She made her way towards a set of stairs, immediately taking note of a brass clock on the wall nearby striking nine. Her body may have been weak and deteriorated, but her vision was still sharp, a quality that few people of that age could boast. On her way downstairs, she could see through a door in the hallway straight across from her, and inside there seemed to be a woman’s figure, standing at a table with her back turned. She was nervous and unsure if she should proceed, but the stranger must have sensed her presence, and turned to look at her.

Lily’s face lit up instantly, “Casey!”

Although the person in front of her was a grown woman, she could instantly recognize the green eyes and face of the playful little granddaughter which she hadn’t seen in so long. The woman had tied her light brown hair in the exact same way that she so often did when she was a child. Pulled back into a tail, with several loose strands framing the left side of her face. But the similarities ended there. The woman’s face was cold and emotionless as she watched her grandmother struggling to descend the stairs safely. Instead of her usual colorful attire, she was wearing a plain, black, female business suit.

"Hi Nana,” the woman said. Lily was unnerved by the flatness of her tone.

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Lily was perplexed at her surroundings. She woke up in a small single bed in a room that she did not recognize. There was a mirrored wardrobe to her right, reflecting back the wrinkled face of an old woman Lily did not think herself to be. The mirror seemed to cruelly mock her as she attempted to shakily leave the confines of her bed, and subsequently, the bedroom itself.

Shuffling around the hallway outside her room, she passed an old clock and descended a staircase towards an opened door. Through it she spied a man’s figure standing at a table. When he heard the creaking floorboards, the man turned to look, then rushed to her aid.

“Careful Nana, you shouldn’t be walking without your cane,” the man said, placing his arm under Lily’s for support, and escorting her into the kitchen he came out of. He wore a dark grey sweater, and brown trousers. His hair was dirty blond and neatly cut. His eyes were a deep brown color.

Lily merely looked at him in confusion as she was led to sit at the kitchen table. “...Daniel?” she asked, hesitantly.

The man smiled ear to ear and said in a soft, reassuring tone, “That’s right, Nana. It’s me.”

Lily continued staring at him, perplexed, as he set about preparing two cups of tea. How could this man possibly be her grandson? Daniel was surely only a teenager, but before her was a grown man! She was reminded of the shy and reclusive young boy whom she hadn’t seen in so long.

“You’ll never believe what happened at work today,” he said, and relayed to her some scandalous anecdote involving some of his co-workers and managers. Lily looked at him attentively as he spoke, but she was lost deep in thought, and his words passed right through her. She felt a sense of pride welling up inside her. If this truly was Daniel, he certainly seemed a lot more confident and open as a grown-up than he was as a child. A smile started to form on her lips.

He stopped talking and looked at her, grinning, and she realized that he was awaiting a response to his funny story. As she attempted to think of one, an unexpected and faint memory surfaced in the back of her mind, and instead of commenting on his anecdote, she simply blurted out, “Where’s Casey?”

The smile slid off her grandson’s face. He approached, bent down, and looked her directly in the eye, “Nana…” he began, with a calm, yet stern voice, “....Casey is gone. She passed away months ago. It’s only me now.”

Lily looked at him, dumbfounded, and felt her eyes beginning to well up. The shock was not as intense as one would expect however, as she slowly began to recall hearing similar words from her grandson before. The news of her granddaughter’s death was something she had known about already. Tears began to roll down her face nevertheless.

Daniel silently placed a hot teacup in front of her, along with a small medicine bottle containing a tiny amount of clear liquid. She looked at it, but found that even after drying her eyes, she could not decipher the words on the label.

He noticed her doubt, “It’s your medicine, Nana. You have to take it every day, remember?” he spoke gently, pouring the remainder of the liquid into her tea.

Lily felt confused again, but under the warm, reassuring gaze of her grandson, she nodded. Daniel smiled again, his brown eyes were gleaming.

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Casey sighed sadly as she read again through the old newspaper her grandmother had stashed away into the living room cupboard months ago. The article described the event that broke their family apart. Nana’s disease had only gotten progressively worse since that day. Nowadays, Lily could not remember her own name, and had lost the ability to read and write a long time before that. The doctor was surprised that dementia had set in as rapidly and as early as it did, as if an outside factor was accelerating the deterioration of Lily’s health. But the disease was what it was, and he stressed repeatedly that the only way to keep her feeling safe and validated was to play along with her delusions and memory lapses.

However, one thing Lily always remembered, whether by name or by photograph, were her grandchildren. For Casey, this thought was accompanied by a great feeling of guilt. The reason Casey entered the pharmaceutical industry was wholly because of her grandmother. However, by the time she began to show early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, Casey was already halfway through her business degree, and she hoped that she could at least exert some kind of influence on the industry from an upper management level. It took little time for her to realize that it was not going to be like that, and she slowly became a colder, more distant person to everyone. Yesterday she visited Lily for the first time in months, and felt deeply ashamed that she didn’t manage to show any emotion or warmth in return for the joy and excitement that her grandmother had shown her.

She thought of happier times as she left the paper down on the coffee table and moved to the kitchen. Her watch indicated it was close to midnight. She was too busy with overtime to stop by any earlier, but still she wanted to pick up some flowers for Nana on her way home. She regretted her absence from her grandmother’s life, and was determined to redeem herself. Starting tomorrow, she would be by her nana’s side during her final days of life. Casey laid the flowers down on the kitchen table where they would be ready to surprise her old grandma the next morning.

As she was about to leave, she noticed that she forgot to remove the price tag off of the bouquet. As she tore it off and went to throw it into the garbage, something inside the bin caught her eye. It was an empty medicine bottle. As a pharmaceutical expert, Casey felt obliged to know what kind of medication her grandmother had been receiving in her absence, and picked it out of the bin.

She froze upon reading the label, and her heart began to pound. A floorboard creaked behind her.

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Lily shuffled through the hallway, yawning drowsily, and wondering where she could possibly be. She carefully descended an unlit staircase, and despite the darkness noticed a clock on the wall pointing to five minutes past twelve. She wondered why she was up so late, momentarily managing to recall hearing some kind of scream. But upon feeling the chill in the hallway, the memory slipped from her mind.

The door facing the staircase was closed, but the one on her left was open, and she entered a dimly lit living room, in the center of which was a coffee table. On it was a newspaper, the dim light fixture above acting as its spotlight. Her attention was caught immediately by the face next to the headline - it was unmistakably her grandson. She decided to try and decipher the letters on the page. Slowly, she took in the words of the headline and one by one, they formed a sentence in her mind.

Car crash results in death of young man.

She looked at the headline, then at the photo of Daniel, taking in his familiar brown hair and striking green eyes. As the realization slowly dawned on her, she noticed a man standing in the doorway, partially visible in the dark. He was holding a bouquet of flowers, and looking at her warmly. Lily was afraid to speak.

“Don’t worry Nana,” the man said. “It’s me, Daniel. You need to take your medicine again.”

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