There was a knock at the door. “Your son is here.” the computer said. Looking at the monitor, I saw a middle-aged man with short brown hair. It wasn’t my son.
“Let him in.” I said, There was no use arguing with the home system. If it approved him, it must be fine. The man came in, carrying a bag of groceries.
“Hi Dad,” he said cheerfully. “Got you some veggies, and that prescription refill you needed.”
“Well thank you.” I said. I reached to take the bag.
“I got it, Dad.” He carried the sack to the kitchen and started to unload it.
I don’t know who he is, but he’s friendly enough. Why the system wanted to call him my son, I didn’t know. My son didn’t look anything like the man. I know because I have a dozen photos of my boy in a box under my bed, along with photos of my dead wife. My memory might be failing, but it’s not gone. I forget to take daily meds on my own now and then, but I haven’t forgotten my family. Not yet anyway.
“Did you take your meds this morning?” my son asked.
“Of course.” I replied. I held up the pill case as proof. The man looked at the case and sighed.
“Well, let’s take them again, okay?” he said. I looked at the case. Monday and Tuesday were empty.
“It’s Wednesday, isn’t it.” I said.
“That’s right, Dad.” my son replied. “Now you remember.”
“Shit.” I said, angrily.
“It’s okay, Dad. I nearly forgot to grab my keys on the way over here.” he said.
“Yeah, well you don’t need a fucking computer nanny, Mike!” I growled.
“I know, Dad.” he said quietly. “I know.”
“And you’re Tom, not Mike.”
“That’s right, Dad.” Tom said. “You remember, Mike was my brother.”
“Don’t tell me what I fucking remember!” I shouted. “I know what I remember!” Tom flinched, and his eyes grew wet. Mike had died three years ago. It was Mike’s photos in the box. Photos of the dead, not the living. I remembered now.
“I’m sorry, Tom.” I said.
I looked around the kitchen. I couldn’t look Tom in the eyes. “Can I get you a beer?” Tom nodded his head, and went to the fridge.
“You’re out of beer, but there’s diet coke.”
“You hate that stuff.” I said. “I hate that stuff.”
“Yeah, but the company is nice.” He smiled, and grabbed a couple of cans. I walked out to the porch, and Tom followed. We settled into porch chairs, and Tom cracked open the cans. He handed one to me and we tapped them.
“Cheers, Dad.” I took a swig, felt the harsh sting of carbonation.
“Yep,” I said with a sigh, “not beer.”
“Still better than that pub on Main.” Tom said. I chuckled. My mind was clearing a bit.
“Good Lord,” I said with a chuckle. “I swear they never cleaned their taps. Why did you ever go there?”
“They were cheap.” Tom said. “I could get four pints for the price of one of your hipster brews.”
“Yeah, well mine were worth drinking.” I smiled. “Of course, you spent all your money on that car.”
“Mike’s car. God, it was a beauty.” I felt the anger rising, fought to hold it back.
“Mike had the car, right.” I said. “You had the bike.”
“Yeah, Mom hated that bike of mine.”
“She thought you’d kill yourself, but you wouldn’t give it up.”
“Not till Marion.” Tom said.
“Marion is your wife.” I said, “And Annalee is your daughter.”
“They are indeed.” Tom said, and he smiled.
“How old is Annalee now?”
“Shit, I would have guessed four.”
“She’s growing so fast.” Tom said. “I can barely keep track.”
“My God, the time.”
We sat on the porch for what seemed a long while. Rocked in the chairs, drank our sodas, and watched the Sun grow red on the horizon. So many memories washed over me. Em, wearing that yellow sun dress the first day we met. Mike’s birth, then Tom’s. Baseball in the back yard. The arguments. Tom’s death. No, Mike’s death. Tom is here visiting. I remember more when he’s here. I remember so many things. But the faces were fading. I could see Mike’s face, and Annalee’s. But not Marion’s, or my wife’s. Why can’t I see Em’s face?
Tom must have sensed my mood. He pulled out his phone, flipped through things and handed it to me.
“Remember that time on the lake?” he asked. The photo showed Em and the boys on the dock. I took that picture, I remember. And how could I forget Em’s face. So beautiful. Tears stung my eyes.
“Those were great times.” I said, handing back the phone.
“That they were, Dad.”
I looked up at him, saw tears on his cheeks. Poor Mike. Shit. Tom. No boy should see a parent like this. Shit.
“I’m getting worse, Son.” I said.
“Yeah, you are.” he replied.
The sky began to grow dark, and it was getting chill. I could have sat longer, but the young man next to me said we should go inside. He called me Dad, but he was not my son. I know because I have pictures of my son in a box under the bed. My memory might be fading, but I still know who my family is. I haven’t forgotten that.