I’ve heard the following question often in the last twenty years as a novelist: “Where do you get your ideas for your stories?” I think every storyteller comes up with the same answer, although maybe in many different ways; from the world around us. I found Remembering Death in my community.
Life around us is our source.
Whether consciously or not—more often not I think—I absorb the struggles of life around me. Right now my wife and I live in a large retirement community in Florida and the people around us are inflicted by just about every physical ailment one can imagine. I’m hearing about heart bypasses, new knees, new hips, gastro issues, hearing aids, dementia, and on and on.
“Where can I get a new brain?”
That was from a friend just the other day. “This one’s starting to fail worse than my knees. Not remembering anything.”
When scheduling time with friends we have to constantly refer to our calendars to ensure we aren’t forgetting an appointment for a doctor visit or some medical follow-up. And we joke about it all because if we didn’t, if we took it too seriously, life would hardly be worth living. The most heard joking comments are probably about our memories and maybe it is one of our greatest fears. “Sorry I can’t remember your name. I’m having a spot of Alzheimer’s today.” In our community, we are all having a spot of Alzheimer’s.
It’s one of those jokes with a very serious undertone.
But what about those who actually have Alzheimer’s disease? Do they make light of it, spout jokes about themselves, a way of covering their fears? Sometime last year I was reading a magazine article about a clinical procedure to implant an electrode into the brain that would send an electrical pulse to a precise area in hopes of reactivating memory in Alzheimer’s patients. It was given a pet name of Brain Pacemaker. As a novelist, that was an ah-ha moment.
From that article and my neighborhood of inspirational characters came the birth of Lester and Celeste Winters and my latest work of fiction, Remembering Death. We find Lester in the middle of the clinical procedure mentioned above. The surgeon is ‘tickling’ his hypothalamus to determine the best placement for the electrode and during this tickling, Lester has a memory, but all he says about it is, “She’s dead!”
“Who’s dead?” Celeste and I wanted to know and so I wrote the next chapter expecting that Parker DuPont would be called in to assist in finding out. He did in fact find out and oh, what a story.
Pasted below is a splice of conversation between Lester and Celeste Winters. They’d just escaped from a golf course where Parker had been their bodyguard. He’d had to pull his gun on another golfer. The passage opens with Celeste speaking to Lester. They’re in Salty’s Island Bar & Grille on Clearwater Beach Island.
Is Lester a 76-year-old child?
“I went out Christmas shopping, thinking you were safe with Fletcher. I put an 80-year-old child in charge of a 76-year-old child.”
“I’m not a child, Celeste.” This time Lester was angry. “Neither is Fletcher.”
He started to pull away but she held onto his hand. “I’m sorry, Sweetie. That’s an unfair statement.”
“And you say it a lot. I don’t like being compared to a child. It’s worse than being labeled special, just because I’m having memory problems. You think you’re scared. What about me? I go to sleep at night worrying that I’ll wake up in the morning wondering who you are, this beautiful woman in my bed.”
Celeste smiled and shook her head.
“Right now I know why I’m scared,” Lester continued. “What I’m really scared of is the fact that someday I’ll not know that I should be scared and I’ll go blissfully through the end of my days with strange looking people around me, telling me what to do, a stupid grin on my face. That scares the hell out me. And then I’m not going to know how to swallow or breathe and then my heart won’t know how to beat and finally this child will be out of your hair.”
“I don’t want you to be out of my hair.”
Parker didn’t know what to say, or if he should just stay out of it. He glanced around, saw that no one was paying them any attention and came back to find Celeste wiping at her cheeks with her napkin while still holding onto Lester.
“You going to eat that?” Lester asked her, pointing to her salad.
She nodded. “Yes.”
He extracted his hand. “Good.” He picked up one of his tacos and looked at it. “I don’t know about you, but pulling a gun on a guy on the golf course makes me very hungry.”
To read the story about Lester and discover the meaning of his statement, “She’s dead!” please visit Desert Bookshelf. Remembering Death is available in eBook, paperback and hardcover.