“All our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.” – MacBeth
This story explores a teenager seeking meaning in a seemingly meaningless event (the descent of an old woman into Alzheimer’s). While the parental figure clings to an ordered system of belief, the teenager obsessively fixates on the random and chaotic words of a woman who has lost herself to a debilitating disease. In the end, the teenager is filled with guilt as she realizes she has decontextualized and fetishized the woman’s decline and, though she is at the start of her life while the woman is at the end of hers, she finds herself in a similar place: lost.
(Autumn Krause, Artist Statement)
Sound and Fury
by Autumn Krause
You can’t get the smell out of your hair when you leave. Later on, when the new AMC puts the same orangey soap in its dispensers, you can’t use it and you have to douse your hands in your Sweet Pea waterless sanitizer from Bath & Body.
As you stand in front of her, you’re breathing out of your mouth so you don’t smell that disgusting cocktail of orangey antiseptic (you see bottles of it sitting in the bathrooms and at the check-in counters–that’s how you know it’s orange), old person pee, and microwaved food. This is what the end smells like, you think. And it smells pretty shitty.
You can’t help but study her. Her eyes are bluish. Only, not really. When she was young, they were probably blue, or who knows? Maybe even hazel or brown. Now they’re all washed out–how the fuck does she see out of them? But she does. She sees you and she smiles.
“Bertha,” she says.
And, two seconds later, “Gloria.”
You answer to all of them. For the Sunday afternoon, you’re Bertha or Gloria or Stacey or whatever old-timey name she calls you. And maybe it’s not so bad, you think. Maybe, in her head, she’s happy. Sure, she has no clue what day or month or year it is. But she remembers names. And those names are–or were–people, right? Her daughters, maybe. Friends, perhaps. Only you know she’s fucking terrified out of her mind. Her smile flickers like fluorescent light bulbs on the fritz. On. Off. On. Off. Happy. Scared. Happy. Scared. And, two Sundays ago, she grabbed your wrist. Grabbed it with her claw-like hand and too-long nails and pulled you close and said in your ear, “It’s told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
And she was proud. Let you go and nodded, pleased. You can tell she was reciting something, so when you get home you googled the words ‘idiot,’ ‘sound,’ and ‘signifying nothing,’ and it turns out it’s Shakespeare. The woman who has whiskers on her chin and gunk in her eyelids fucking knows Shakespeare. Can’t remember her own name. Wears a diaper. Has to eat Jello. Sound and fury, indeed.
“Smile at her,” your dad says. “Talk to her.”
You do and you do.
“We don’t even know her,” you say to your dad as the two of you wait to be buzzed out of the ward. “Why do we have to come?”
“No one knows her,” he says. He tucks his Bible under his arm.
And you kind of hate him and don’t go for two Sundays. But then you need to go back. You need to see her. You have no clue why but she draws you in. She’s some kind of decrepit siren, one whose stink and madness and emptiness slips into you, stays with you, lingers.
Only, when you finally go back and walk into the nursing home, trailing behind your dad (who, for whatever reason, always calls it an ‘old folk’s place’) because you don’t like to walk next to him, Nurse Mariel waves your dad down and says, “She’s gone.”
“Where?” you ask, as though Nurse Mariel is going to say the woman has stepped out for lunch or gone to have her hair done.
“She’s passed on,” your dad says in his pastor voice. And you’re angry, robbed. You take a deep breath, even though that means sucking in that putrid nursing room air. You [sic] dad puts his hand on your shoulder and you shake it off.
There’s no need to be so upset, you think. She was gone a long time ago, long before you met her. You’re the freak who turned her slow and tortuous end into something else.
Sound and fury, you think. Sound and fury.