“There’s been another one,” Karl Homesman said, a smirk curling the corners of his mouth. He sat in the chair beside Jon. “You’re new.”
‘Oh great,’ Jon thought. ‘A witless moron, with inane drivel to spew, no doubt. Just leave me be.’
“I don’t want any company, thank you,” Jon said. He did not want to make friends with anyone in that place, he did not even want to be there.
“So, you’re the S O B that got my place,” Karl said.
“I’d like to be alone,” Jon said. “Thankyou.”
“It’s no trouble,” Karl said snidely. He was disheveled, still dressed in pajama bottoms, a dingy t-shirt beneath a spotless starched white lab coat. The hair on one side of his head was pressed flat, the rest scattered about haphazardly, as if he had just emerged from a long night sleep. He was unshaven. Jon sensed an odor hanging about him like a cloud.
Jon instantly did not care for him, though he didn’t know the man at all. This was the morning of Jon’s first day at The Lodge, his first time at breakfast in the big dining hall, with its cold walls and high ceiling. Everyone was old.
This uninvited fellow still had a spring, though.
‘How old is this guy,’ Jon wondered. ’Young, compared to me. Pompous ass, showing off for the women, with his spry legs.’
“I go home,” Mrs. Chin yelled, “soon.”
Jon flinched, startled at the sudden noise. Karl Homesman snickered.
Her three table companions stopped their chattering, looked at the small woman to see if she was talking to them and then they resumed their breakfast conversation.
“Sooner than she thinks,” Karl chuckled, sneered, and chewed on a wooden toothpick. His pot belly leaked out beneath his undershirt, through the opening in his lab coat. He did not dress for breakfast, like the other residents, this was not his floor. Not yet.
“New shoes,” Karl said. He slid a foot into the aisleway for Jon to see a barefoot stuffed inside a fuzzy house slipper. “Got them from the internet. There is a computer there in the TV room. I’ll show you how to use it if you like. If you’re up to it. None of these codgers go near it. All afraid they might break something. Break the internet,” Karl laughed.
“No thanks,” Jon scoffed. “I’m old but I’m not stupid. I already know how to use a computer. Used one for twenty years, maybe more.” Jon took the spoon and began to eat the oatmeal, with the hopes this interruption would depart.
“How old are you? Eighty, eighty-five?”
Jon snorted. “Ninety-nine, my good man. Soon to be one hundred years old.” Jon tilted his nose a bit upwards.
“Ninety-nine. Really. Well, you’re in pretty good shape for such an old guy.”
Karl raised his foot to the edge of the tabletop. Pulled up his pajama leg to show a pale white hairy leg with his barefoot stuffed snuggly into his new slipper.
“Bought these for twenty bucks, on my credit card. I still have one. They delivered them right to my room. Not here,” he shrugged his shoulders. “Downstairs. I’m on two. But not for long. I’ll be up here soon.”
“Great,” Jon said. “That’s great.”
Mrs. Chin turned back to her table companions, with a smile. They always tried to include her in the conversation but as she didn’t speak much English there was often a flurry of waving hand gestures, finger signs and raised voices, as if speaking loudly would cross the language barrier.
Mrs. Chin was not hard of hearing. She simply smiled and said softly “I go home soon.”
“There’s been another one,” Karl leaned forward and repeated. “Saw them wheel another sheet covered corpse on a gurney to the morgue elevator this morning. They do it first thing, before everyone wakes up so none of us will see. But I see. I get up early when they’re still doing their morning bed check. Pulse check I call it.”
Jon stood; his oatmeal finished. The boy and his dog had gone. He brushed wrinkles from his tan pants and pulled the hem of his Icelandic wool sweater over his belt. Karl’s leg was stretched out into the aisle, leaving only enough space to squeeze through between the new slipper and Mrs. Chin’s wheelchair. The bare skin of Karl’s belly protruding below his t-shirt exposed a tuft of wispy grey hair spouting from his navel.
‘Disgusting. Probably a pedophile or some other aberrant creature before his confinement in this place.’
Jon was always smartly dressed. Not overstated, but always in washed and pressed casual wear. Always scrubbed clean with his thin white hair precisely parted, combed back, and the tiniest dash of cologne. Not too much that might overpower someone standing nearby. He hated dirt under his fingernails and un-shined shoes. The shoes told you about the person that wore them, like a hidden reflection of their inner self. Unkempt shoes often meant an unkempt person. Jon’s shoes were always polished. Not polished all the way to a mirror shine, he didn’t want to appear tight assed. Jon stared down at Karl’s slipper, wondered what that said about this creature.
“You should dress better if you want people to think you’re a doctor,” Jon said as he pushed past Karl.
“I am a doctor,” Karl said indignantly. “Used to be. Animals. I used to be a Veterinarian. Before this place.”
Jon Magnusson was a tall man, a head taller than most, though he had grown shorter in recent years and stooped more than he used to. He was thinner too. ‘Trim and fit,’ he would say. ‘Lean like a racehorse.’ He was not a dieter, though conscious of the things he ate, taking pride in his discipline to deny himself excesses or unnecessary fats and sugars, except on special occasions.
‘Too much fat will kill you. There are no fat old people.’
There were no fat residents at The Lodge, except for this Karl Homesman guy, and he wasn’t really fat, just a bit around his middle. Jon was certain that his own longevity was due to his absence of visceral fat.
“Old man Blount,” Karl said, with a grin. “Finally.”
“Eight years. Can you imagine, confined to that bed for eight years. Couldn’t walk or even talk, really. Didn’t know who he was or even where he was. He wasn’t even that old really.”
Jon halted his escape. “Well perhaps that is a blessing, that he passed, isn’t it.”
“His wife probably doesn’t even know yet,” Karl went on. “I bet she’ll be relieved. Now she’s free of that lump of useless flesh and she can get on with her life. She should be thankful. I’m going to hang around and see if she is crying for joy or anguish when she gets the news. She comes in around ten on most days. She’ll cry for sure, they always do.”
Jim Blount wasn’t even seventy, though he had been at The Lodge all those years. Should have been transferred to the 2nd floor long ago. Perhaps even all the way down to the 1st.
“Vegetable Man,” Karl called him. “The poor guy had no sense of anything, yet you would often hear him calling his wife’s name. ‘Mary, Mary’. Over and over until her name vibrated off these cold hallway walls, all the way down the long corridor, all the way to your room, nearly. You got Lipton’s room didn’t you. Stolen from me, but that’s okay, I’ll get Blount’s. Sometimes he was loud and bawling, sometimes just monotonous sobbing, on and on and on. I felt sorry for him, though sometimes the incessant pleading for Mary could make you clench your teeth and wish Jim Blount would just be quiet, or just get on with it and die, for crying out loud, and leave the rest of us in peace. There were times when I felt like giving him the needle. I’ve got tons of experience with that you know, from my Vet days.”
“The needle,” Jon repeated.
“I know how to do it. Never mind, I’m not even on this floor. Not yet. Just come to get some breakfast and visit my friends, these old codgers, and see who got my room. I would have put him down, had he been a dog or cat, suffering like that.”
“He is at peace then,” Jon said. “Finally.”
“Finally,” Karl snorted. “Someone should have done him long ago, miserable bastard, instead of being such a pain in the ass for so long. Would have been a mercy for him and all the rest of us.”
“A blessing that he finally passed.”
“Passed, yeah. Or done in is more like it. Good riddance in any case.” Karl eyed Jon up and down. “I used to be like you. You’re new here. Karl’s the name.” He extended his hand for a shake. Jon took it reluctantly.
“Jon Magnusson.” He nodded then made his way past Mrs. Chin.
There were a few ‘clop clopping’ sounds behind him and Jon had a sense that Karl was up and following, but when he turned back to look, Karl had disappeared and the kitchen lady was clearing away his oatmeal bowl.
‘Eight years. My gawd. Eight years in this place.’
Jon had planned to stay on his own, in his little house, with Harriet’s ashes, with her ghost. Stay at least until he reached the magic century mark. A hundred years old, still independent, a true milestone, an accomplishment to be proud of. He had less than a couple months to go, but he just couldn’t do it on his own. He couldn’t cut the grass or shovel the snow off the walk or do heavy lifting anymore or even do his laundry or make his own meals. But other than that, he could still fend for himself, mostly, and even still drive his car, as long as there was no traffic. It was Walden, his grandson, that convinced him to move to The Lodge, if he wanted to make his next birthday. The magic century. It was the tragedy that brought it to this.
Jon’s son Magnus and daughter-in-law Wilma had checked in on him every day and took care of him, since Harriet. But now, just like that, they were gone, snuffed out because of a faulty carbon monoxide detector, that didn’t detect anything, until it was too late. At least they went peaceful. Walden found his parents in their bed as if they were deep in a restful sleep. They were the ones that had made it possible for Jon to stay in his little house. They did his shopping, cooking, laundry and most of his housekeeping, though it had been hard for them to keep it up, at their age.
Jon’s room at The Lodge was near the end of the east hallway. It was a nice enough room, but it had that smell. Disinfectant, like a hospital where used up people come to be sick and die and need to be scrubbed away. He wondered if the overpowering odor of Lysol was an attempt to wash away Lipton.
‘He probably died in the bed I’ll have to sleep in,’ Jon thought.
Jon made his way past the nursing station. The woman that greeted him on his arrival, Nurse Clara, called it the Hub, rather than the nursing station. It was at the center of the three wings that sprouted from the central core. Three wings, three floors, plus the windowless basement where the furnaces, water heaters and other machines did their continuous business. There was probably even a basement below the basement. A sub-basement.
‘Probably a place of dungeons where the disruptive residents are kept. Perhaps they should have kept Mr. Blount there. Probably where the morgue elevator goes’.
That elevator was right next to Jon’s room.
“I’ll call you at ten.” Karl appeared out of nowhere and was following Jon now. Clop clopping steadily at Jon’s side.
‘Christ’. Jon hurried his pace; he was forced to hold the handrail that lined the wall the length of the corridor. The clopping from the soles of Karl’s slippers quickened.
“I’ll call you when old lady Blount gets here. We can watch her together. It’ll be fun or at least interesting.”
Jon waved his hand in the air as he made his escape; waved as if to say, ‘I heard you but never mind calling me.’
“At least she’s got some pink flesh on her bones, not like the pasty old crones we’re stuck with in this hell hole. At least she’ll be something to look at, even if she is bawling and blubbering.”
They stopped at the door to Jon’s room.
“Lipton’s room,” Karl said. “Yup, should have been mine. It’s nice, lots of windows, like a corner office. You’ll like it. I’ll get Blount’s. My paperwork is in for the transfer. We’ll be neighbors.”
“Great,” Jon said. “That’s just great.”