“People come and go”

She will be 90 years old this year and she remembers only three things: the names of her sons, the names of her parents and the name of the girls school she went to in 1935. Her body will not fail her; her skin is beautiful, its wrinkles slight, graceful; her hair is an uninterrupted white.

One of her sons is with her now but she does not know which one. She just knows their names and repeats them all. Her son tests her with questions and does not correct her when she is mistaken, which is always. She has asked him more than a dozen times how he arrived here, whether he drove by car. “That’s very good,” she says. Her eyes flit from left to right, never meeting their target, making her seem empty. “She does not see your face,” her son announces, “just a figure, but not your face.” She asks several times when they will go back to the house in Etiler, the house where they used to live.

She sits down for a slice of cake and some tea then asks for cookies, like an adult who knows she has a right to her diet but a child who cannot reach the jar. The insulin drain in her brain has her constantly demanding sweets. Her caretaker refuses staunchly but, after a while, acquiesces with a single cookie, telling her, “no more after this.”

The caretaker and son discuss her daily routine. She watches tv, goes for walks, counts the cars. He brought her prescriptions. He brought her borek. “She was a very smart, strong woman. She would go play cards every day before my father came home, she took big risks, she would win. She was very, very good at cards,” he said.

She gets up from the table and approaches the TV, bringing her face very close to the screen, as if trying to hear but instead focusing on the pictures flashing by. What does she see? She backs up to sit on the couch. She scoots to the corner of the couch, her hands on her knees, then by her side. Her eyes are empty. She stands again and returns to her seat at the table, left hand on her knee, right arm on the surface. She moves the tea cup then returns her arm. She moves the plate then returns her arm. She moves her arm back to her lap, she gets up again to return to the tv, then the couch, then the table. It goes on.

He never visits for long.

He kisses his mother goodbye. She asks when he will come back. “You will stay close to me, right?” “Yes, mother,” he says. She asks what he does, he replies ‘production.’ She asks when he will come back. “Very soon,” he says.

She follows him to the elevator. Her caretaker beckons her back as the doors close. He shakes his head remorsefully. “We didn’t realize for a long time,” he said. “She wasn’t taking care of my father after his heart surgery. She couldn’t care for him. He would’ve lived longer if she was normal.”

A family photo reveals a bright woman, round, enigmatic, smiling coyly. Her sons crowd around her, her husband, the sea a fleeting blur in the background. The era strikes first, the wear of the picture’s corners, a nostalgia for the clothes. Soon, the realization sneaks in, first melancholic then altogether impossible — she was here, now she’s there, upstairs in that apartment, black in places of her mind. Just a flashing moment in a long life, this photo is warped into the oblivion of photographs and imaginations, the only things left.