Over the past couple of years, Amanda’s Aunt Julia has been sliding slowly towards dementia.
Since no one was looking out for them, the first signs were missed, though, with hindsight, you couldn’t help but wonder how that could have happened. As Saffy observes, when a Yale-trained oncologist suddenly asks, in the middle of lunch, if anyone has fed Toby, her beloved Alsatian – dead now for 25 years – you should be saying, “Let’s fix you an urgent appointment with the doctor” instead of shrugging and saying, “Can you pass the char siew?”
“My stupid cousins,” Amanda said, her eyes rolled so far back in her head she might have been able to see that her ponytail was a little off-centre. We were having lunch at Xiyan on account of the fact that the Lemak Boys next door was completely booked out. “It was a year before they took her to the doctor and by then, she was walking into the closet thinking it was her car!”
“How could they not have known?” Saffy asked.
“Well, Mark’s excuse is that he was always working late, so he never saw his wife. Rosalyn and Jane say they were away on business a lot so they never saw their mother, while the helper’s English has never improved so, even though she saw Auntie Julia all the time, she never knew what Mum was talking about most of the time anyway, so how was she to know? It’s so pathetic!”
“And tragic!” Saffy added, no doubt thinking about when, if she ever showed signs of early dementia, anyone would notice. “The whole thing reminds me of that Julianne Moore movie…”
Amanda paused in mid-chew and turned her head towards Saffy. “Which one?”
“The one where she loses her memory. You know… What was it called? …Uhm… Oh. My. God…”
“Shut up, Saf,” Amanda said, returning to her lunch. “You don’t have dementia!”
Saffy’s bosom inflated. “You don’t know that! I’ve not been tested!” She pouted. Her eyes glazed over. You could tell she was already giving on-screen TV interviews about the poor state of mental health care in our Toa Payoh neighbourhood, possibly like Paris Hilton’s recent YouTube project, This is Paris – a fly-on-the-wall documentary that had the effect of deepening even more, if that was possible, Saffy’s already fanatical devotion to the woman.
“The things that woman’s had to put up with her whole life!” she told Sharyn who turned goggle eyes at her.
“Like what, ah?”
“Her father was poor!” Saffy intoned. “He was one of the poor Hilton children. And then he sent Paris to this camp where she was terribly abused. That’s why she fills up her closet with 550 pairs of shoes!”
Sharyn looked decidedly unimpressed by the idea that someone with the surname Hilton might actually have been poor, especially if he could afford to send his kid to a camp. “Issit?”
“And her real voice is super deep!” Saffy added, undiluted admiration infusing every syllable. “I really love her. In fact, I think I love her more than I love the Kardashians! Rest in Peace, K-U-W-T-K!”
Amanda later said that following Saffy’s train of thought is a little like watching a puffed up soufflé collapse — you can kind of still see the shape, but then you suddenly think, “I guess I should have started eating as soon as it arrived at the table.”
I thought about this for a while. “I think I know where you’re going with this,” I said eventually, “but that analogy makes no sense at all!”
Which is basically what everyone is now saying about Aunt Julia. At a recent dinner, she asked Amanda five times where she lived, though Amanda says it’s a lot better than if she’d asked, “Who are you?” At least, this meant she still remembered who Amanda was.
“I went to Yale, you know,” Aunt Julia said at that dinner. “How about you?”
“Harvard,” Amanda replied.
Aunt Julia paused and stared at her niece, almost as if they’d just been introduced and she was trying to remember where she knew this pretty woman from. “Is that where you live?”
“No, I live in Toa Payoh.”
“That’s nice, dear,” Aunt Julia said with a beatific smile. “You should eat more. You’re so skinny. Don’t they feed you? I had such good meals when I was at school. I went to Yale, you know. Where do you live?”
Amanda cried in the taxi all the way home. When she walked in our front door, she found Saffy and me on the couch re-watching the last episode of The Umbrella Academy. “This show makes absolutely no sense,” Saffy complained immediately. “There are so many loose ends with all that time travelling!”
I sighed. “And I’ve been telling her that’s what happens when you go back in time. Everything’s different! Nothing is the same anymore. That’s what’s supposed to happen!” I later wondered if this wasn’t something Aunt Julia, if she’d been in the right time stream, might have agreed with.
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