Foreman could hear her in the living room, shuffling through the stack of magazines.
"Now where have they gone?" She muttered to herself as she made her way across the room. "I know I left them there. I always leave them there."
Foreman could hear her in the hallway, pulling open the drawers in the old bureau that had been the resting table for gloves, hats, purses and books throughout his childhood. He wondered if she'd try the door next, but knew it was locked. It was always locked, with the key hidden away near the window.
"Eric? Have you seen my keys? I'm going to be late."
Maybe she thought she would be late for work this time, or for church, or for some meeting with his teachers that took place more than 15 years ago.
"Eric?" Alberta Foreman walked into the kitchen. She was wearing a pale blue dress with a dark blue sweater, her hair pulled back into a bun. "I can't find my keys. I'll miss the train."
Foreman smiled at her. "Mom, you're on vacation, remember? You don't have to go to work today." Most days she'd be satisfied by the lie. It made sense to that part of her brain that had slipped back in time to the days when she was still a secretary for Northwestern's English department, and Eric was still living at home.
"Vacation? That's not ..." Her voice trailed off and she glanced around the kitchen -- at the clock on the wall, at the refrigerator door covered with family snapshots, at the framed copy of a watercolor of Jesus hanging on the wall.
For a minute, Foreman wasn't sure if she would accept the lie today, or if this would be one of those days when someone would have to sit down with her, explain her new life to her once again.
Then she smiled. "Vacation. Of course. I took time off while you were home for spring break."
Foreman nodded and managed a slight smile. "Right. Because I have to be back to wo ... school next week."
Foreman hadn't actually decided if he was ready to go back to work yet. Cuddy had told him he should take his time -- though he was sure that had more to do with the hospital's liabilities than his own health.
He turned and shook his head. He didn't want to think about that, about what happened. About the managerial decision she had made.
He hadn't wanted to talk to her at all, but Dad had invited her into his room, and told him to behave himself.
"She's still your boss, son," Rodney whispered to him as Cuddy was closing the door. "She just did what she had to do."
Now standing in the kitchen of his parents' north Chicago home -- three weeks after he left his bed at PPTH -- Foreman ran his hand over the back of his head, feeling the pucker of the healing scar on his skin. He had considered growing his hair out a little to try and cover it up, but had come to think of it as a reminder of what had happened. As a talisman that something had changed.
That he had changed.
He didn't want to think about that either, but every time things got quiet, every time he had time with his own thoughts, they always went in the same direction: Could he still be the doctor he was? Did he want to be? Should he be?
He had told his therapists that he was going home for just a short visit, to see his parents before he went back to work, but he was hoping for more. Maybe, Foreman told himself, once he was far from the hospital he could finally figure out what it all had meant.
"We should do something today, just you and me," Alberta said, interrupting his thoughts. "Something fun while your father's at work. We could go downtown. Oh, I know. Let's go to the new exhibit at the Art Institute, the one on African art. I heard it's very good."
"Maybe later," Foreman said. "How about some tea first?"
"You remember how to make it?"
He smiled and kissed her on the forehead. She seemed to be getting shorter every time he saw her now. "You'd never let me forget."
Alberta had learned to drink tea from one of the professors in the department -- some English guy, or maybe he was Irish, or Scottish. Somewhere where they put the queen on their money, he thought, and smiled.
The man made what he called a "proper brew" every afternoon, and taught Alberta his method. She passed it on to Foreman.
He filled the tea kettle with cold water and put it on the stove, turning on the burner. He pulled the tin of Alberta's favorite loose leaf tea from the shelf and put it on the counter. Then he stopped, tried to think about what he'd just done.
Foreman checked the burner. It was on. He picked up the kettle and could feel the weight of the water inside it. He wondered briefly how many more times he'd double check. His short term memory problems were better, but the number of simple things he'd forget left him frustrated.
Soon after he got home from the hospital, he decided to order pizza -- only to make the same order twice.
"You want another one?" The voice on the other end of the phone sounded confused.
"No, no, sorry. Just one. I guess someone else already called."
He shook his head to clear it and took his mother's favorite yellow tea pot out of the cupboard, then reached into the drawer for the infuser.
Normally when he came to Chicago for a visit, he'd arrange to rent a car. He'd pay for an upgrade whenever he could -- a convertible or a sports car -- something he hoped would impress the neighborhood, if not his father. Rodney Foreman's usual response was that: "the Lord surely does wonderful things."
This time Foreman hadn't trusted himself to drive, and sat in the back seat of a taxi as it cruised along the freeways and north past the loop.
Now in his mother's kitchen, he held the familiar metal infuser in front of him. It unscrews, he thought to himself. You know it unscrews. He held it between his fingers, feeling the perforations and the seam at the middle of the piece.
"You need any help?" His mother stood next to him. Staring at him with that confused expression that had become all too familiar on her face. Foreman wondered if he had the same look on his face.
He pushed his fingers one way on the top of the infuser, the other way on the bottom and it began to separate. He smiled at Alberta. "I'm fine Mom," he said. "I've got it."
"Good." She took the sugar bowl off the cupboard and carried it back over to the table with her.
Whenever people found out about Alberta, they assumed Foreman had gone into neurology to try and help her. Not true.
Fact was, he was in his first year of residency already when he began to notice the early symptoms of Alzheimer's in her. First it was just a forgotten name on occasion, or a date. His father had laughed when he had to remind her how many years they'd been married.
"Thirty-eight," he said during the family barbecue. "You've been so busy planning this party, you forgot what it was for."
"No I didn't," Alberta said and playfully slapped his arm. "It's just that when I'm with you, I forget all about time."
"That's not what you two said whenever I was late for school," Foreman teased.
A few days later, she forgot the word for toothbrush. Foreman had to remind her which exit to take when she drove him to the airport.
He tried to ignore the gaps in her memory, telling himself that it was just a classic case of a doctor over-identifying with a case -- just like every first year med student who seemed to believe he had the symptoms for every disease in every textbook.
Six months later, the signs were harder to deny. She was forgetting more words, more names, more places. And she said it was getting harder to concentrate at work. She was afraid she might be fired.
Foreman had her booked with a specialist before the week was over.
She had managed fairly well. The early diagnosis helped to slow the progression. She quit work, but used her free time to volunteer at the church and its school.
Three years ago, she had to give up even that.
Now she was rarely left alone for long. Some days -- like today -- she seemed fine. Able to dress herself, able to even cook some of her favorite dishes
Other days she would forget to get dressed at all, or put on everything in her closet. She would leave water running full blast in the kitchen sink. If anyone left a door unlocked, she might wander off, headed to a job she no longer had or a store that was no longer open.
So someone was always there. When Rodney was at work, it was one of Foreman's aunts, or a neighbor or one of the ladies from church. The calendar was filled with names and phone numbers -- a schedule planned out for two weeks in advance.
"Don't forget the milk," Alberta said, and Foreman looked away from the calendar and toward his mother.
"I won't," he said. The kettle whistled and he poured the hot water into the teapot. He carried the pot over to the table, then took two cups from the cupboard and placed one in front of his mother, and the other in front of his own chair.
He took the milk from the refrigerator and finally grabbed a timer before he sat. He set the clock for four minutes.
"Do you think I'm going to forget how long it needs to steep?" Alberta asked.
"No," Foreman said. "I'm afraid I will."
"Don't be silly," she said.
Alberta poured a splash of milk into her cup, and then into her son's. Foreman didn't bother telling her he didn't like milk in his tea anymore. In her world, he always would.
Maybe, if he couldn't go back to work at the hospital, it could be a good thing. He could move back home, help ease some of the burden for his Dad. In a few years, Alberta would be needing even more help. Rodney had to know it might not be long before she needed more help than she could get at home.
Maybe, Foreman thought, everything that had happened to him was a sign. He could always go into research. There were clinical trials taking place everywhere. The Alzheimer's Association's national office was right downtown in the loop -- that had to mean something, didn't it?
Alberta picked up the pot and began to pour out the tea just seconds before the timer went off. "I told you I didn't need that," she said, and smiled.
"I know you don't, Mom," Foreman said. "Your timing is always perfect."