G., a white-haired Italian craftsman, was recovering in a hospital bed, having suffered a tragic, bones-breaking fall. Though the staff managed his pain, they were nonetheless losing him – to Alzheimer’s. There was a bright, brief glimmer of “recall” when Pino first arrived in the room, but the charge nurse who escorted him whispered that it was because Pino had a strong resemblance to G.’s attending physician and not to get his hopes up.
G. was busy undoing the details of his life at an alarming rate. He had fallen down the stairs at home because he had forgotten they were there. He lay in a convalescent facility with one arm and the opposite leg elevated and immobile – in part to remind him of his injuries and in part to instill indelible caution in his future. He looked like a physically abused marionette.
“G., how’s it going?” Pino asked, unconsciously rubbing his stiff left hip. He was so shocked at the sight of G. thus defeated that he insisted on some physical distance between them, leaning against the gray wall for support.
“Not so bad, Mr. Doctor, sir, but I miss-a my old life. You know? Maybe when I getta out of here, we go find it together, you think?”
“Sure. Sounds like a mission with a purpose. What do you miss most, G., if I may ask?”
“That’s-a my boy. He’s-a my heart’s desire, makes me proud to be a real papa.”
“No offense, but you look a little mature to have a young one running around the house. Are you sure he’s yours, not just some neighborhood stray you’re taking care of?”
G. shook his head at the teasing, not biting. “He’s notta my blood, no, but I take-a care of him. I’m the only father he’s-a known. I teach him right from wrong, all about life. The blue lady says-a we are made for each other. I think she’s-a right.”
“Family is what we make of it. I couldn’t agree more with you there.”
The nurse poked her head in. “Almost time for your pain meds, Gepetto. They make you sleepy. Maybe you should thank your visitor for stopping by. They’re welcome to come back later.”
“Sure. Sure. Give me just a few minutes more with Mr. Doctor first, okay?”
“That’s me, apparently.”
She winked warmly at Gepetto like he was her favorite uncle and headed back to the nurses’ station. Gepetto turned to the window and stared at the bright, clear sky, almost in a trance.
“Gepetto?” Pino called. “Don’t go yet. Come on back now. We have unfinished business.”
Gepetto turned back towards the visitor. The surprise on his face was heartbreaking for Pino.
“Oh, hello. I dinna realize I had such important company. Come to check on the patient’s progress? I wish-a there was more. Not so much today, I’m afraid.”
“We were talking, just now. Do you remember?”
Gepetto shrugged and smiled. “I take-a your word for it. They tell me I forget things sometimes, hopefully only little things.”
“G., what’s the name of your heart’s desire?” Pino asked. “Do you remember?”
“How you mean, doc?”
“What do you call that little boy of yours?’
“What boy is that? I don’t follow.”
“Your little friend, the one you made.”
Gepetto smiled ear-to-ear, vividly, passionately tapping a fist against his chest with his good hand. “Did I tell you about Pino? A labor of love, that one. He’s-a something else. So life-like. He’s-a so real it’s like I’m-a not alone in the shop anymore. Me and my little shadow.”
“Can’t get more real than that.”
“He’s-a just wood, I know. Still sometimes, I catch a twinkle in his-a eyes and I think he’s-a looking right back at me, with so many questions. But then I remember, he’s-a just a good-looking toy.”
“Sounds confusing and a little sad.”
“You know something sadder, doc?”
“This: me here now. I had a life before. You can’t tell-a to look at me, but I could do things. Now I’m-a not so good with my hands or even my poor head. They don’t work so well for me no longer. It’s a hard thing to put down your glass of life once you-a drink from it. You know-a what I mean?”
“I think I do, yes.”
“You?” Gepetto scoffed. “You gotta long life ahead of you yet, Mr. Doc. More ahead than behind, I’m thinking.”
“I hope so. I was actually planning on it. For a while. But.”
“You go and live life. Don’t worry about an old man who’s-a had his moment in the sun. Go.”
Later at home, Pino stood before the bathroom mirror. His skin looked more wooden than ever, hard, inflexible. He flicked the knob of his nose in a way that would have brought tears any other day. No pain today. No sensation at all. He could see the grain in his cheeks, the patina of what he had been, of what he was becoming once more. He tried to close his eyes, but they refused to shut. His hinged jaw dropped open and hung down loosely. He tried to close it with the back of his hand, but his chin was unresponsive.
It was happening as he had feared, the uncreation. As the aggressive Alzheimer’s disease worsened, as Gepetto’s memories failed, so did Pino’s temporary humanity, so intertwined were their lives.
Pino prepared to return to his father for one final plea for his old world back. “Please remember me, Gepetto.” If anyone could encourage Gepetto to hold on, it was Pino.
Pino stood at the top of the stairs, frozen, unable to force his legs to move. He reached out to grab the railing with both hands, but his carved wooden fingers had lost the ability to grasp. Instead, he tumbled downward with a rolling clatter, landing at the bottom as a mere collection of loosely assembled puzzle pieces, a puppet without strings, dissipated humanity, a wish undone.