The bay was calm and when Emily was poised at the mooring line, ready to cast it off, he switched on the motor so that they could get more quickly out into open water. He enjoyed it more when they sailed off the mooring and the wind was light, and they could just about do it today, if they wanted. But the engine made noise. It put off the point of conversation for a little while longer.
He cut the engine when they rounded the point past Marshall Lighthouse and they raised the mainsail together. Emily unwound the jib. It was her boat; he’d built it for her. A twenty-four foot sloop, small enough to handle easily alone, big enough for the two of them to take out for overnight trips. But she’d named it for something that had significance for both of them, and out of habit he generally took the helm when they were together.
This time he gestured for her to take it. He sat on the side of the cockpit, on the bench where Emily usually sat.
‘So,’ he said, once they were well under way and there was no other sound except for the snapping of the sail and the crying of the gulls. ‘Tell me what you know, doc.’
‘I’m an obstetrician, not a neurologist,’ she said, her eyes on the horizon.
‘But you know anyway, don’t you?’
‘You know too.’ Her voice held so much barely concealed pain that he was tempted to let it go, to talk of something else. But that wasn’t why they’d come out here on the water. The place where they were the most truly alone together.
‘I want your opinion. The doctor wouldn’t tell us anything. He said to come back next week.’
‘He wants to wait for the results of the blood tests.’
‘But we don’t need to, do we?’
‘The tests he gave you showed that you have impairment of short-term memory. You have some aphasia – that’s difficulty in recalling or understanding words – and some psychomotor difficulty.’
‘I messed up drawing that damn clock, didn’t I?’
She nodded. He hadn’t really been frightened, but now he felt something cold touch him. Because he’d thought he’d drawn that clock fine. Just fine.
‘There’s no sign of a stroke on the scans,’ said Emily. ‘And it’s come on gradually, not all at once. It could be vitamin deficiency, or an infection.’
‘But you don’t think that’s what it is.’
‘No. I think it’s most likely Alzheimer’s.’
She was brave. Her voice didn’t waver at all when she said it. It made him proud of her.
‘I think we’d better tack,’ he said. ‘If we want to avoid Mosquito Island.’
The wind was stronger at this point of sail. Robbie secured the main sheet and leaned back against the side of the cockpit, which was tilted at nearly a forty-degree angle.
‘So tell me what to expect,’ he said. ‘Alzheimer’s works backwards, doesn’t it? It erases the most recent memories first?’
‘I don’t think it’s so methodical,’ she said. ‘I think it takes what it damn well wants.’
‘But in general, the newer the memories, the sooner they go. Like Perry. Before he had to go into that home, he used to sit in the general store and insist it was 1953.’
‘You won’t go in a home,’ said Emily. ‘You will stay right in our house with me. We’ll live together as we always have, no matter what happens.’
‘I don’t want you to have to take care of me, Emily.’
‘Too bad. Because I will.’ She said it fiercely, and he was proud of her for that, too. ‘I’ll take care of you, and you’ll take care of me, for the rest of our lives. That’s what it’s all about.’
He watched the water rushing by. ‘There’s more to it than that, and you know it.’
‘I don’t know that there is.’
‘What about if there’s a time when I think it’s 1962?’
‘1962 was a fine year.’
‘You’re deliberately misunderstanding me.’
She went quiet for a few moments. Finally, she said, ‘You won’t.’
‘I most likely will, Emily. And it won’t matter to me, by that time. But it will matter a great deal to you, won’t it?’
‘We’re going too fast. Can you loosen that sail?’
He loosened it.
‘It doesn’t have to matter,’ he said. ‘We’ve been here in Maine for a long time. We raised our family here, and we worked here. Everyone here has only known us as we are now. They don’t judge us. And everyone who ever did or would, is gone.’
‘We said we’d never talk about this.’
‘Things have changed. We could let people know, in a way that we controlled. Then we could deal with it, together, while I’m still . . . while I’m still myself.’
‘What about Adam?’
‘Adam is old enough. He’s happy. He could handle it. He’d understand.’
‘No. I won’t put him through that. One of the things I’ve always loved best about Adam is that he’s sure of himself. He knows who he is. He’s like you, that way.’ He’s like the way you used to be, before this. She didn’t say that. ‘Telling him would take that certainty away from him. He’ll question everything he thinks he knows about his life.’
‘It wouldn’t have to. Think about it. I know you don’t want to, but think about it. We wouldn’t have any secrets any more. There wouldn’t be anything to be afraid of. We’d be free.’
‘You said we were free now. After Christopher died.’
‘Isn’t it a better freedom if everyone knows, than if no one does?’
She didn’t answer. He didn’t press her. He knew her well enough to be sure that she’d heard him.
They didn’t have any particular destination. They sailed where the wind took them. It was Robbie’s favourite kind of sailing, if he were honest: without aim, without schedule, meandering back and forth where the wind took them, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. This was the kind of sailing they had done their first time together, when Emily hadn’t known port from starboard. Back in 1962. On the water, all their time merged together. It was one time, and their love was always as fresh as it had been the day they had met.
He looked up, surprised to see they were passing Mosquito Island again, on their way back to Clyde Bay. He recognised all the landmarks: the cluster of buildings around the general store, the town dock, the big white house owned by summer people on the point. He hadn’t thought about . . . what was it they were thinking about? Something awful. Something terrifying.
‘Are you all right?’ Emily asked him, and he nodded.
‘I understand what you’re saying, Robbie,’ she said. ‘But I can’t do it. I can’t do it to Adam.’
He frowned, and was about to ask, What can’t you do to Adam, when he saw the launch heading towards them. ‘That’s Little Sterling,’ he said.
Little Sterling was waving his big arm at them. Emily altered their course to come alongside.
‘Doc!’ he called as soon as they were within hailing distance. ‘We’d call it a favour if you could come ashore with me right now.’
‘What’s wrong?’ Robbie asked.
‘Dottie Philbrick, at the general store. She’s about to have her baby. We’re waiting for the ambulance, but you looked closer.’