Conversation With a Dying Amnesiac

“Elise. God, Elise. What’s happening?”

“The nurse said you were awake.”

“Elise, I don’t know what’s happening.”

“You’re in the hospital.”

“Why am I in the hospital? Why are you standing so far away?”

“Your car was hit while you were in transit from Sacred Heart to, well here actually, so all’s basically well that ends where it was going to end. You’re driver dropped his cellphone or something like that.”

“Am I all right?”

“The doctor says you’ve lost some memory.”

“But I’ll be okay? Wait, why was I at Sacred Heart?”

“The cancer.”

“Who’s cancer?”

“Your cancer.”

“I don’t have cancer.”

“Yes you do.”

“Will I be all right?”

“No. They expect you to pass on pretty soon here.”

“Mr. Erikson ran over all of Oliver’s legs?”

“I’m dying?”


“But when did I get cancer?”

“You were diagnosed ten months ago. Maybe nine. Your chart will probably say.”

“And I’m dying?”

“You’re dying.”

“Where are we?”

“The Brindle Valley Hospice.”

“Elise, this doesn’t make any sense.”

“No, I guess it wouldn’t.”

“Why do you keep looking at me like that? It makes me feel so alone. Why do you look at me like that?”

“This is a strange thing to tell you, Alan.”

“What is?”

“We hate each other.”


“We divorced, Alan. We hate each other now. Have for a while.”

“No we don’t.”

“Yes we do, Alan.”

“I don’t hate you.”

“You will.”

“No I won’t.”

“Yes you will.”

“Do you hate me?”

“Well, yes.”

“But I don’t hate you.”

“You will.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I know.”

“Please, I don’t know what’s going on, but please just don’t look at me like that, Elise.”

“I’m sorry, Alan. I forgot how to look at you any other way.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to get a coffee from the cafeteria and make a couple phone calls. Let you think.”

“But you’ll be back?”

“What time is it?”

“Please, Elise. I don’t know what’s happening.”

“All right.”

“All right?”

“All right.”



“I’m glad you’re back.”


“How is Oliver?”

“Mr. Erikson backed over his legs with his pickup. I had to put him down a year ago.”

“God. Why’d you have to say it like that?”

“You asked how he was.”

“I know I asked how he was, but why do you have to be so cruel about it?”

“I wasn’t being cruel, I just wasn’t being friendly.”

“Why can’t you just be friendly?”

“Because I hate you.”

“But I don’t hate you.”

“You will”

“Am I really dying?”

“You’re really dying… It’s getting late.”

“Will you come back tomorrow?”


“Please. You don’t have to like me. I’m just not ready to be alone yet.”



“Yes, okay. I’ll visit you tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Ellie.”

“You’re welcome… Don’t call me Ellie.”

“Why not?”

“Because you don’t call me that anymore.”

“I don’t?”


“Couldn’t I start again?”


“All of his legs?”


“Mr. Erikson ran over all of Oliver’s legs?”

“All but one.”

“Which one?”

“What difference would it make?”

“I was afraid you weren’t coming back.”

“I said I’d be here, not that I owe you anything. I’m not coming back again.”

“You won’t come back?”

“This is a pretty nice place.”

“I won’t see you again?”

“Really: flatscreen, trees outside your window. I even like the wall color. If it weren’t for your bed and all the tubes in you I’d think this was just a bedroom. I’m sure you have more channels; you don’t need to watch infomercials.”

“I know.”

“No remote?”

“No, there is one. All the other channels terrify me. Shows I’ve never heard of, celebrities I’ve never seen, and, God, the news. It all makes it harder to pretend this isn’t happening.”

“I guess it would.”

“But I’ve seen this infomercial before. I’ve listened to this man and I’ve seen this knife sharpener. I’ve seen this part before; he sharpens his credit card and cuts a tomato with it. It’s…familiar. Do you have to stand so far away?”

“Listen, Alan, I can’t be here all day.”

“Couldn’t you just talk to me, Elise?”

“Not all day.”

“Why did we divorce?”

“The hospital called me. You still have me as your emergency contact.”

“Because we started hating each other.”


“That’s my phone.”

“Who is it?”

“I need to take this.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Who was that?”

“Who was who?”

“Who were you talking to on the phone.”


“Greg who?”

“Greg Paulson.”

“Oh. How is Greg?”

“He’s good.”

“Good… What’d you talk to Greg about?”




“Why’d you talk to him about dinner?”

“Because I’m having dinner with him.”

“Why are you having dinner with Greg Paulson?”

“Because he’s my fiancée.”



“What are you talking about, Elise?”




“Well what the fuck, Elise?”

“A lot has changed, Alan. Everything’s changed.”

“Everything and you.”

“And you.”

“No. I didn’t. I’m right here.”

“Then you’d been gone for a very long time.”

“Well, I’m back now. I’m here now.”

“What does now matter?”

…“You changed your hair.”

“Yes. New stylist.”

“She charge any less?”


“Huh. I don’t like it.”

“All right.”

“Are you sleeping with him?”

“He’s my fiancée.”

“Christ, Ellie.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Am I seeing anyone?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Oh… Think it’s possible and you haven’t heard about it yet?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Oh… Greg Paulson?”


“Did you leave me for him?”


“Christ… Were you sleeping with him while we were married?”

“Toward the end.”

“Christ, Ellie.”

“Don’t call—”

“How could you be so cruel?”

“I only started sleeping with Greg after I caught you sleeping with Nina. Not that it matters anymore.”


“Not that it matters anymore.”

“I wouldn’t do that.”

“How would you know?”

“Because I know I wouldn’t do that.”

“Well, I guess we surprise ourselves.”

“I wouldn’t have.”

“I found you with her. I found you with her in our house. Dumb bastard.”

“Nina Buchanan?”


“Huh… Did I say why?”

“What do you mean, why?”

“I don’t know.”

“We hadn’t been intimate for some time. Not since the miscarriage.”


“Not that it matters anymore.”

… “What are you thinking, Elise?”

“I’m not thinking anything.”

“If you hate me, why’d you come?”

“The hospital called me. You still have me as your emergency contact.”

“But why did you come?”

“I don’t know. Do you want me to leave?”

“I didn’t say that. You know I didn’t say that.”

“All right.”

…“You hate me now, but you loved me once. Didn’t you? You can’t pretend we weren’t ever in love.”

“I think I always hated you, I just didn’t know it yet.”

“Don’t say that.”

“Just like you hate me right now, only you don’t know it yet.”

“I don’t hate you.”

“But you do and you ought to after all the things I’ve said to you.”

“You couldn’t say anything to make me hate you.”

“How would you know?”

“I just do.”

“Remember how you found out I was sleeping with Greg?”

“No, and I don’t want—”

“I called you on the phone while I was sucking his dick.”

“Stop it, Elise. Please—”

“I said, Do you hear this, know what this sound is?

“Please, Elise. Stop. Please stop.”

“You hate me and you should.”

“I don’t want to. God, I don’t want to.”

“When did what we want ever matter?”

“You really don’t remember any part of it?”


“None of the bad?”

“None of it.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

“A Saturday morning. You were wearing my old Race for the Cure shirt and it’s so big on you. The sleeves cover your hands.”

“I threw that shirt out two years ago.”

“And we were reading the paper at the dining room table. You’d finish section A and I’d finish B and we’d trade like that until we’d read most of what was worth reading.”

“I liked that table.”

“From the kitchen window we saw the silhouette of an airliner crossing a stretch of open sky and you said to me, Will it be our turn soon? I asked you what you meant and you said, Will it be our turn to take a flight soon, go away? And I said, soon.”

“We never took that flight.”

“I said soon I’d take you anywhere, all the way to China. And you said you didn’t want to go all the way to China. So I said, Tahiti then. And you said you didn’t want to go to Tahiti so I asked you where you wanted to go. You said you hadn’t decided yet.”



“Before bed that night I told you I’d decided Disneyland.”

“Really, Disneyland?”

“Yeah. What are you smiling about?”

“Nothing. It’s— I mean out of anywhere in the world.”


“It’s just cute. That’s all.”

“Well you’d think it’s childish eventually. We never went and when I asked you why you told me it was a stupid thing for a full-grown woman to cry over, not going to Disneyland.”

“I don’t feel like I’d say that to you.”

“Well you did.”

“I’m sorry, Elise.”

“It’s ok. Anyway, it doesn’t matter anymore.”

… “Do you love him?”




“And he loves you.”


“I suppose I should say congratulations or something.”

“No you shouldn’t.”

“I want you to be happy, and I guess, at any rate, I’m dying.”

“You don’t want that.”

“For Christ’s sake, Elise. Would you stop telling me how I feel.”

“I’m sorry.”

“All right.”

… “What are you feeling then?”

“I’m just waiting to wake up. I’ll wake up and you’ll be there and I’ll say I had a horrible dream and you’ll tell me everything is all right.”

“It’ll be over soon enough.”

“I guess you’re right… I’m sorry I said I didn’t like your hair. It looks nice.”

“Thank you… It’s getting late.”



“Could you do something for me? One thing and then you can go. Never see me again.”

“I could go right now.”

“I know you could, that’s not what I meant. I just—could you just do something for me? Not for who I became, but for who I am right now. For the me that has always loved you and always will.”

… “One thing. But only for you. Not for you.”

“When you leave, will you tell me you’ll come back?”

… “All right.”

“And will you pretend it’s Sunday morning? Would you pretend we don’t hate each other yet?”


“And would you come close to me.”



“And then I’ll leave.”

“Yeah. But you’ll say you’re coming back?”

“Of course I’ll come back, Alan.”

“You will?”

“Of course I will. Did you think I’d leave you here?”

“I’m sorry, Elise. I’ve been so confused. I thought—”

“It’s okay, Alan. Everything’s going to be all right.”

“I was so afraid, Elise.”

“It’s all okay now. I’m not going anywhere. Besides, who’d take me to Disneyland?”

“But you have to go now?”

“I have to go now. I need to feed Oliver.”

“And then you’ll come back?”

“What’s gotten into you? Of course I’m coming back.”

“I love you, Elise.”

“I love you too. Now go to sleep. I’ll be with you when you wake.”

“But what if you’re not?”

“Then you haven’t woken up yet.”

Taylor Koekkoek is a writer from the Pacific Northwest currently pursuing a degree in English at the University of Oregon.