Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Thief by Wilma Desiato
There is a thief in my sister's house who is stealing systematically with a gloved hand, gently, but with devastating results. You can't see him, but he prowls there night and day and methodically pilfers more and more from Ivelise while she is oblivious to what is happening.
We sisters found out about him only after some great damage had already been done. We investigated and were able to identify him, but sadly realized that we were powerless in our attempt to drive him away.
His name is Alzheimer.
Ivelise lived alone in her elegant apartment in Bologna after her husband died five years ago. She kept her travel agency business going as usual, encouraged by the love of her faithful clients who wouldn't travel with any other agency. She reduced her schedule to five or six trips a year especially reserved for her close clientele with whom she would travel in first class trips all over Italy and Europe, personally verify the hotel lodgings, order the menus, the musical entertainment, and the special excursions to the most interesting sites. The group of travelers had become her friends and blindly followed her without question, without knowing where she would take them. They would board the spacious bus with a sense of excitement at the mysterious itinerary that Ive had planned. It was never a disappointment and every new trip was a new experience that they would treasure until the next one.
Unknown to us sisters (Connie lived in Rome and I in the States), Ivelise in the meantime had fainted several times when she was alone in her office or at some restaurant and had been taken to the emergency room which advised hospitalization, but she had signed herself out, never mentioning the episodes to anyone. We found out she had been taken to the emergency room at least eight or nine times in the last four years always signing herself out against medical advice. The loss of consciousness was caused by a temporary decrease of the blood supply to the brain leaving permanent small scars in it. The brain was now deteriorating very rapidly.
The last time Ive fainted she wasn't so lucky. It was two years ago on a hot day in July while alone in her apartment. Most of her neighbors and friends had left for the weekend to escape the sultry city air. The temperature had reached ninety-five degrees and at the time there was no air conditioning in the apartment. To protect herself from the scorching heat she had closed the windows creating an even hotter environment. When she fainted she hit her head and remained unconscious for three days on the living room floor. After several unanswered telephone calls, a close friend living in the suburbs drove to Ivelise's home. He rang the door-bell several times to no avail and finally called the firemen who, unable to open the front door which was bolted from the inside, had to climb with a ladder from the outside to the fourth floor. Ivelise was curled in a fetal position, naked and laying in a puddle of her own urine and feces. She was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital were the doctors made a diagnosis of cerebral stroke involving the left side of her body, aphasia (speech impediment) and double incontinence.
Since she had had previous untreated small cerebral infarctions her recovery would be long and the prognosis uncertain. Due also to Ive's age there was the possibility that her condition would degenerate into Alzheimer's disease.
The friend notified Connie in Rome and she in turn notified me.
I took the first flight available and arrived in Bologna the following day. Connie was already at the hospital. The person in that bed had only a slight resemblance to what I remembered of my sister Ive. Half of her face was swollen with black and blue marks on the side which had hit the floor; her hair, usually well coiffed, was wet with sweat and stringy. What disturbed me most was her terrified look. Her eyes had lost their beautiful green glow and had become colorless, looking around for an escape like a caged wild animal. She looked through me without acknowledging my presence and lifted her hand pointing toward the door.
"What is it Ive?" I asked. A grunt escaped from her lips.
"You can't go out, you have to stay in the hospital. We are here, Connie and I and we'll take care of you," I said caressing her face while her hand kept pointing to the door.
During our visits at the hospital we would find her half naked wandering around the room looking for the door to get out. Ive used to be so modest that she wouldn't undress in front of her husband. Who was this person, this child who had taken the place of my beautiful, outspoken, self-assured sister? This child with an elderly face, who couldn't speak, who had to be fed and changed.
The thief had stolen my sister Ive and replaced her with this shell of nothing.