“In life we all have an unspeakable secret"

Ande Bliss

Ande Bliss
November 04
Essays, poetry, opinion and short stories. Free lance on line and in print. Favorite quote: "In life we all have an unspeakable secret, and irreversible regret, an unreachable dream, and an unforgettable love.” ― Diego Marchi Personal Website:


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APRIL 19, 2012 11:03AM


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This is a story of a woman who has dementia. She is modeled after my own mother. I have named her Elsa as she is now another. One of my greatest fears...perhpas the only real one I have left is to become an Elsa. To no longer own my life and become unedited. This is written in a different format. I have struggled with it. Bringing it to you.( It has 1200 words. It is a sad story with some humorous overtones.) 



An elderly woman dressed in dark slacks and a white blouse sits in a chair by the window of her room. Through a cloudy glass pane she stares at the tree line; now the end of her seen world. There is an empty bird feeder dangling from the tip of a pine bow. A poor attempt to ignite the woman’s interest, it is also ignored by the birds.

A Raggedy Ann doll is the woman’s solitary companion. In an earlier time the woman had a name. It was Elsa Barron. When she taught high school, she was referred to as Mrs. Barron. Now she is called: Elsa who has dementia in room 107.

Elsa Dementia has disdain for mirrors. Reflections betray and old photos are not recognized. She does not know the man in a picture on her night table. Agreeably handsome, he is nevertheless a total stranger. It is another man that she remembers.

Elsa’s friend Ann never grew old. Elsa says if she didn’t have to look at herself, there is no reason to believe she is old either. She detests the old woman with wild hair and etched face that shows up in the looking glass. She wishes she would get out and go to another room.

She props Ann up on the windowsill, puts her face close to the worn linen countenance with its triangle eyes and traces the painted mouth with her index finger.  

Pay attention.  I have to whisper. It was on a day just like this when I saw him there. A feeling inside of me rose from a place that I thought was dead.  I have often reflected on that moment and how his touch changed my life. I think about all the other incidents which having arrived as happenstance became permanent. Some were buoyant, others anchors. You know Ann; no one except you knows this.

Elsa stares at the sky without blinking. After retiring, she took up painting and for twenty years she stood in front of easel creating landscapes. Now she holds an imaginary brush painting clouds where they ought to be.

Look over there, Ann.  The Maple tree is turning. I need to put some orange on the tips of the leaves. Everything turns. We go one way, perhaps hesitate, feel a calling and then turn in another direction. Is something noticed? Who walks by and who lingers?  What or who is looking for you? What or whom do you seek? I had not planned to be there. Why, I have asked myself, did I turn around. It was not the direction of my choosing. I lost my way for a brief moment. I turned.

Elsa grabs Ann and shakes her. She squints her eyes and pokes the doll repeatedly. 

Never should have done that. Never, never …never. She shakes Ann and wags a finger at her. Never turn, Ann. Be steadfast, stay the course.

 Now she holds her doll tenderly, smoothing Ann’s orange locks as she continues her story.

He was there when I was searching.  After that day my life changed forever. I was left with more need. The want turned to anger. Mind you, I never said I was an innocent! I should have been aware of the risk, but the music was already playing and the girl in me wanted to dance again.

Elsa looks at Ann and makes a face. She drops her voice in case anyone in the corridor might be listening.

 None of them out there know that I could dance much less have feelings. You felt that way about Andy. I know you did. You have a heart on your chest. He broke it, didn’t he? You don’t have to say. I just know it. Poor thing. Poor, poor jilted Raggedy.

 Elsa wraps herself in a woolen shawl. It is beginning to rain.

 I am so cold today. Can’t find a spot that is comfortable. Oh, Ann, I wish I still lived in Florida. You would have enjoyed it. I could have pushed you about in a little carriage.

Some of the women there push their stupid dogs. Not me…I have no need of pets. I prefer dolls.

 A bell rings in the hallway. An aide knocks on the door. “Mrs. Barron, its supper time. You can bring Ann with you”.

Elsa rises slowly from her armchair and puts Raggedy Ann in the pocket of her walker. They sit at the head of an oblong table that has fresh paper mats on the glass cover, under which is a green tablecloth. When the mats are down, its time to eat. When they come off it is time for crafts.

Elsa doesn’t care very much for the present. She lives in her past life and can retreat there on a turn. She has one daughter and grand children whose names are too silly to remember. She smiles politely when they come to visit, IF they come at all. She tells Ann, she doesn’t care if she ever sees them again.

 They talk to me as if I am stupid. I AM NOT STUPID, I just can’t remember. I don’t give a hoot about their world and I don’t care to share my private world with them either. 

 Elsa hates the food, which has no salt and is ground fine for an easy chew. She moves it around on her plate, bends over and whispers to Ann.

I don’t suppose you’d care to share this slop?  Ann grins at her, but does not reply.

They have no idea that I used to dance. None whatsoever. Watch this!

She bangs the spoon on the glass tabletop and widens her eyes as she stares at the woman beside her. BOO, she shouts. And then laughs at her neighbor’s fright.

I used to dance the Fandango and I was a damn good Fandango dancer! I’ll bet you never got off of your fat ass.  Dumb old crab.

 Elsa sneers at the victim of her vitriol.

Fat as a turnip and has bad breath. Can’t have a decent conversation with a turnip. 

“If you don’t behave you’ll have to go back to your room” an aide says as she wipes up the scattered peas from Elsa’s plate.

 Elsa’s voice drips with sarcasm. She tilts her head to the side and smiles slyly. The aide is a mouse in her trap.

How very stupid of me. I don’t mind a bit if I do go back to my room now, Prissy.

Ann and I will take our dessert on a tray. We don’t give a damn… do we Ann? .

 She giggles and shuffles off leaning on her walker. Elsa is a perfect Scarlet. Head held high, chin up as she sweeps her imaginary taffeta gown down the corridor to her room. Back in her chair, she grabs Ann from the walker pocket and sets her back on the windowsill. She is sleepy. It has been a long day for both of them. Tomorrow is the dreaded shower. They will hide. The sun is going down and she feels the agitation coming.

 Now, lets see where did I leave off?  I believe we were talking about unfortunate encounters. Did Andy ever kiss you when we were all asleep? I bet you two had fun in the nursery. Did I mention when I first saw him? It was a day like this. 


© Anne Armand/2012


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I have given Elsa a inner voice. Is the one you hear. My mother could come in and out without warning. One minute she was giving me sane advice and the next she was banging a spoon on the table or singing WWI songs. One of my first post on OS was called LIKE BEA. I pray in that post that I do end up like her. father suspected she had an affair early in their courtship. He worried about that....he worried about her love....even when he was 100....
I know this is not an easy read. Thanks for taking the time.
Nice work.

It's not good to worry about love when you're 100.
Ande, do you know the song that goes, "strumming my life with his fingers, telling my life with his words"? As I read your piece, that same feeling came over me. It’s not my life, but could very easily become my ‘life’ someday. This must have been very difficult for you to write because it meant putting yourself in that position, anticipating the eventuality, and feeling Elsa’s feelings. I found it beautiful, even hopeful.
Kosh: Thanks on the story. But he did. In his dotage he worried about his own turnings. There was no he just looked back.
Beauty: The song is called: Killing me Softly. It is one of my favorites. I wrote a post on it a while back. Favorite Songs...I think? Thank you for your comment. I've been posting a lot lately as I will not be able to do that after next week for a bit. Will be traveling back to NH. Let us hope we escape from that hazy world..
Ande, this is so well written and so well told. I know because Elsa spoke through my father, my mother and now she speaks through my older brother... so far I'm still doing okay, but I just can't see going myself going down this path... I'm making plans for another journey. is the curse of my generation and yours. I am sorry that Elsa has visited your family so many times. Thank you for taking the time to read. Stay well.
Your story is moving, terrifying and very well written. You obviously have a flair for storytelling and fiction. You should consider participating in Weekend Fiction here on OS. R
Thank Gerald. Fiction writing is scary. I've only tried it a few times. It requires moving into someone else's brain and body. I tried out a short short once on OS. Called STOP OR I'LL SHOOT. That required me to think like a young boy back in the 50s. Really had to do a lot of "conversion" but I might try more. Thanks again.
Kosh has this right. This is a terrific piece, Ande and affecting. r.
Painful to read but you told a sad story very well.
Painfully sentimental and a beautiful piece, Ande; very well said. R
What a frightening piece. I used to have a Raggedy Ann doll. I may have trouble sleping tonight. I guess that says how well written this is.
Jon..I wasn't sure I should publish it here. But as far as I know there aren't any outlets for this kind of work. Talking Writing did not accept it.
Thank you, Mary, Thoth and Sara. It was very painful for me to watch my mother live like this. I've written a lot about her. The poem RESIDENT ARTIST is posted OS as well as LIKE BEA.
I used to work as a private secretary for a woman who was 103. Her aides gave her stuffed toys and spoke to her in jibberish, like baby talk, and I hated listening to them. She was so far gone, but I wanted her treated with respect. God, this getting old gets hard.

This post resonated on a real level. Rated by me. I wrote earlier it is the plague of our generation. It probably hits every family. It terrifies me. I don't want to be an embarrassment to my children. We all want dignity in our dotage.
Ande, this a powerful and engaging piece. I, too, worry about ending up like Elsa, or my father, who didn't know me anymore when he died. His mother, who lived to be 104, had to be restrained in her wheelchair in the nursing home years after my grandpa had died, in the same nursing home, because she was afraid he was cheating on her and she would attack other women patients.
Ande, this was an extremely memorable and well-written. I read it twice and man, so sad.

My MIL had a different varity of Alzheimers. She lost words but she had two left. "Good" and "Very Good." She didn't seem really different than her old self which was very lively and loving. Her face became more beautiful. So in some ways I do not fear this as you do. Maybe because my parents died in their late fifties, so in a strange way that huge loss was also a blessing. They had their marbles.

Kudos to you for the courage and the talent to make Elsa so very vivid, inside and out. An amazing read. I like to imagine that it need not be so painful. Then again, I try not to think about all the horrors that real old age might bring. RRR
[r] ande, brave and touching write! thank you. best, libby
Your writing is gorgeous!

I am far more fearful of becoming Elsa than I am of death. I will not allow myself to reach this point. When I can no longer do certain things (tests that I've devised), I will walk through that final door with my head held high and my dignity intact.

It is well to know how to live. It is also well to know how to stop.

Chicken Maan...
Libby and SkypixieO

Thank you for reading and commenting.

There are two pieces which I took a long time to write and which I felt were amongst my best with regard to reaching down inside myself and pulling up both fear and sorrow. Terrible Sorrow. It was this one and A DAY AT THE BEACH. Also posted on OS.

I do see myself as Elsa to be. Problem is we can't just walk through a door and avoid what is coming. Most likely we will be in denial.

That you were able to visit with Elsa means a lot to me. I feel that when my mother and I were together she thought like Elsa but was unable to communicate anymore. That fact that so many have affirmed their own fear of morphing into another thing.
You see,to me, this issue is being over looked as one of the greatest problems for seniors in this country and the world. It It does not discriminate and yet who is talking about it? There is more about breast feeding and Mommy wars than this plague which is costing all of us billions of dollars in nursing home care and creating havoc in families. I may post this. And we can start a linked discussion. Let's see what happens.

Ande in appreciation.

You are absolutely right when you say that we are in denial. We are in denial about our loved ones who are ageing/have aged. We are in denial about all people who are ageing /have aged. And we are in denial about ageing ourselves.

We have deliberately built a quite unreasonable fear of death into the people of our society instead of a distaste for dying badly. I hold christian religions primarily responsible for this. They have pushed the idea that, unless we live saintly lives, we're going to end up with eternal pain and punishment.

Since only about .0000000001% of us live such saintly lives, that means that we all have a well justified fear of spending eternity rather unpleasantly! No wonder believers fear death!

I am pleased to point out that it is the atheists among us who seem to have a calm acceptance of the fact that all of us will come to an end. I am one of them. I have no fear of death at all; what I DO fear is a long, protracted period of physical pain due to illness or a long period of unsettled psychological aberration due to loss of mental coherence.

Dr. Kevorkian is one of my heroes. Proper medical assistance that allows a person to walk through that final door with dignity intact is definitely something that is due our senior citizens should they wish it.

Religion, knowing full well that many elderly people will, in fear of eternal punishment, dump their life savings into the hands of those same religions in a futile attempt to "buy" their way into their god's good graces, resists euthanasia of any kind. After all, the more fearful and unbalanced a person becomes, the more likely it is that they will behave irrationally enough to do such a thing.

Because religions have influenced law-makers to a horrific extent, I will not be able to live as long as I might like to. I will find it necessary to walk through that door while I am still competent to make that decision and to carry it out. This will likely cut off a few years that I might have enjoyed here on this old ball of mud.

I very much hope that you do indeed "start a linked discussion" of this issue. I'd be pleased to contribute to it what I can from the perspective of an ageing senior of over 70 years; one who is definitely concerned about how my fellow seniors view this.

Best to you........Sky
I know this lovely, sad story too well. Dementia is an unfortunate denouement for too many full, productive lives. Knowing how much of a burden my mother's struggles has placed on her children, I fear turning into an Elsa and putting the same burden on my children.
Ande~ I used to work in a convelescent hospital and this is a beautiful representation of the "inside that we never see" in Alzheimer's patients. As if the disease were not bad enough, the medicines are worse. I am admiring you more and more as a writer. I call you the "meat and potatoes" of OS. Gorgeous.
Thanks again Richard. I read your other comments. I do so appreciate you weighing in on this. You are very well known on OS and perhaps others will pay attention. I'll bet that every one has a family member or knows someone who has one...suffering from this.
Brazen Princess..thanks again. Your praise feels good!
I think the dementia issue is so universal that it touches everyone.
I am leaving next week for my trip back to NH and so I might be off line for a bit.

Keep in touch. I'll try to stay on top of your posts.

Just wanted you to know I came back to read your work, and I agree with Brazen Princess.

It is sad when fate makes lucidity a revolving door in a loved one's life. I tossed out a few happy thoughts for you this morning as I greeted my day. I hope one happens to land on your head and give you a little smile "out of nowhere". Be blessed - Duke
This post makes me want to cry. This is one of many reasons why I love old people and feel so much compassion for them. They were all once young, productive and vibrant like their own children, grandchildren, and the rest of the youth in the world. How horribly sad and lonely it must be to be forgotten or treated with condescension. Who knows for sure what is going on in their private minds which "seem" lost to the rest of us? These aged and lonely individuals were once our parents, siblings, best friends, VP's, nurses, doctors, teachers, writers etc......just like you and me. I feel for their loss. I fear that same loss.
Patricia, If we all make Elsa our friend, and we understand her more, than maybe we will be able to make rational decisions about our own lives if we begin to see things change. It is hard to accept and much easier to deny. And because our parents had "it" does not necessarily mean we will too. Higher odds.. I suspect. In any even, thank you for reading and commenting. Love to hear from you.
Thanks Duke...I appreciate your comments and good wishes. Truly.